Why do critics proclaim Great Expectations to be a ghostly tale?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Like many ghost stories, Great Expectations has much of the gothic element to it.  The opening chapters depict the mysterious, misty and grey marshes; an evil-seeming man appears from these mists, threatening Pip.  And, after Pip steals the food for him, he hears from the crack in the floorboards ghostly voices calling after him, "Stop thief!" and "Get up, Mrs. Joe!"  Certainly the figure of Miss Havisham fits the characteristics of the grotesque of gothic literature: Clad in a yellowed and tattered wedding dress with a veil that Pip describes as "wrapped around her like a shroud," she lives in a dark, castle-like mansion that casts shadows through the stairway.  Haunted by the terrible memory of being jilted on her wedding day, she trains her protege, Estella, to wreak her revenge on the male gender.  Later, the grounds of Satis House have the craven and lurching figure of Orlick as the gatekeeper.  He, too, presents a malevolent figure, a "ghost" from the past, as he tries to kill Pip out on the forboding marshes at the sluice house.

Then, as an appartition, Magwitch suddenly appears in London on Pip's steps, so again he is haunted by the "fearful man in grey."  Psychologically, Pip has long been haunted by the memory of this man.  And, he is again faced with danger and he and Herbert seek to get him out of the country.  Of course, Pip is psychologically haunted, too, with his idealized love for Estella, a love that forever goes unrequited.  It is not until the end of the narrative that Pip casts off all is ghosts and realizes that what he has sought is also but a vapor.  For, only true love, the love of his friends Biddy and Joe Gargery and a poor man named Magwitch has substance.  All others fade away at the end of the novel as Pip emerges a true gentleman in his heart.

lynnebh's profile pic

lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I am not certain that your question is complete - "ghostly" what? I am not familiar with this term when applied to this novel, but if you can be more specific, perhaps we can help.

There are ghostly elements to the story, if this is what you are referring to. First of all, from the very beginning, the appearance of the escaped convicts in the marsh near Pip's house is eerie. Pip knows that the convict is still out there, and he brings him food. For a long time, the spectre of the convict stays with Pip, even after the convicts are captured.

Secondly, the aura in Satis House is ghostly. Miss Havisham is haunted by the ghost of her past and she keeps the house exactly as it was the night she was jilted by her fiance. She is thin, wan and colorless and Pip often describes her as looking like a witch, or a ghost.

Pip is haunted by many ghosts in this novel - first by the ghost of the convict, then by the ghost of Miss Havisham, then by the ghost of Estella, then by the ghost of Magwitch when he finds Pip in London. These symbolical "ghosts" are things that prey upon Pip's mind and cause him anguish. He is also haunted by the "ghost" of his past, knowing that in Joe's forge, he was loved, and in London, he is lost. His biggest ghost is his guilt.

If this does not help, please repost your question.

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