What is the significance of "Great Expectations?"

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"Great Expectations" is significant also as a Bildungsroman, or the "novel of maturation."  And it is for this reason, Dickens's novel is often included in school anthologies.  The moral lessons that Pip learns parallel closely the lessons that many young people must learn:

  1. Money cannot buy quality in a person.  After his first visit to Satis House, Pip becomes ashamed of his "coarse hands and [his]common boots."  He is ashamed of being "a common laboring boy....that was much more ignorant than [he] had considered [himself] ...and generally was in a low-lived bad way."  But, Pip later learns that the poorer characters are the more genuine and noble.  Mr. Jagger's clerk, Wemmick is a kind and loving man, Joe and Biddy are warm, decent people of strong moral character while many of the "gentlemen" such as Drummle are cruel and unethical.
  2. Being influenced by others can be detrimental. In his efforts to become a gentleman, Pip wishes to socialize with Estella and the other gentlemen; in so doing, he becomes snobbish.  He is embarrassed by Joe's visit to London, mortified as Joe clumsily drops his hat and does not know how to act in the presence of Herbert. Later on, when Pip visits the forge, Joe, notes the difference, "Diwisions among such must come and must be met as they come.  You and me is not two figures to be together."  In his realization of his cruelty to Joe, Pip calls himself "a swindler":  "and with such pretenses did I cheat myself."
  3. Appearances can often be deceiving. Many of the people that Pip has been impressed with are not what they have seemed to be.  Estella, for all her beauty, is cold and heartless.  Herbert, the gentleman on whom Pip wishes to model himself, is a failure in his business ventures, Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer, is actually a crude and heartless man, Miss Havisham is a pitiable, misdirected woman.  The convict, Magwitch, is really a good man who has simply had an unfortunate life, Joe and Biddy are the best people he has known.
  4. Spiritual/ethical values are what are most important in life. From Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch, Pip learns the value of real love and friendship, the value of integrity in a person.

In addition to the important moral lessons, the title itself is significant in the suggested meanings of the often repeated phrase "great expectations."  Pip expects money to buy him happiness and social position as a gentleman, as well as love.  But, none of these qualities can be attained by his false expectations.  For, after Magwitch appears and Pip realizes the meaning of Mr. Jaggers phrase to take nothing on appearances--"Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence.  There's no better rule"--he remarks in Chapter 41 that he has "no expectations."

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