The novel, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, is considered a good book because it does what Dickens intended. Dickens used his writing to criticize the establishment, the ruling class, in their use of prisons and poverty and the expectations of a young man like Pip. His stories often use the images of prison with its hunger and lack of humanity to show the plight of those with no resources. This book does that with clear images such as Magwitch eating as a dog would eat, even thinking of eating a boy which is a horror to most readers. Throughout the novel, the image of prison is always there, hanging over whatever Pip does, even when helping Magwitch. Pip is trying to help Magwitch redeem himself into a better human being and at the same time, to be a better human being himself. Pip is also trying to become a man with prospects that a woman might look at positively. That he succeeds is part of the theme Dickens uses over and over--redemption is possible if we are given the chance.
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One principal reason why Great Expectations is such a good book is that it contains such memorable characters. It is hard to think of any other author except Shakespeare who could create so many characters who are so vivid, so different and so lifelike that we can hardly help thinking of them as real human beings. Dickens had a genius for creating believable and "human" characters. Even the minor characters like Mr. Pumblechook and Trabb's boy seem like unique human beings. In Great Expectations the memorable characters are Pip, Joe Gargery, Pip's termagant sister, Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham, Abel Magwitch, and Estella. Perhaps there are a few others as well. Mr. Jaggers is truly remarkable as a creation. We feel we can see him and hear him. For example, when Pip finds out that Magwitch is his real benefactor and goes to Jaggers' office to verify what he has been told:
“Now, Pip,” said he, “be careful.”
“I will, sir,” I returned. For, coming along I had thought well of what I was going to say.
“Don't commit yourself,” said Mr. Jaggers, “and don't commit any one. You understand—any one. Don't tell me anything: I don't want to know anything: I am not curious.”
Another reason that Great Expectations is such a highly regarded novel is that it reveals important truths about life and about humanity. We all have great expectations when we are young, and most of us are disillusioned, just like Pip. We make up a lot of fantasies when we are young and expect to have them realized when we grow up. Pip's story is largely a story about his disillusionment. He is disillusioned about gentlemen and gentility. He is disillusioned about money, about love, about himself. The most shocking chapter in the book is the one in which all of Pip's great expectations come tumbling down around him. That is Chapter 39, in which the convict materializes out of the howling storm and reveals himself as Pip's true benefactor.
“Yes, Pip, dear boy, I've made a gentleman on you! It's me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should go to you. I swore arterwards, sure as ever I spec'lated and got rich, you should get rich. I lived rough, that you should live smooth; I worked hard that you should be above work. What odds, dear boy? Do I tell it fur you to feel a obligation? Not a bit. I tell it, fur you to know as that there hunted dunghill dog wot you kep life in, got his head so high that he could make a gentleman—and, Pip, you're him!”
It is not only Pip who is shocked; the reader experiences the same emotions. All along, the reader has been cleverly led to assume what Pip assumes--that Miss Havisham is Pip's benefactress and that she intends to have him marry Estella and will leave the two of them all her money and property.
Dickens' novel dramatizes an important truth. The fine gentlemen and ladies of civilized society are all exploiting the poor, ignorant people who do all the world's hard labor.
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i mean why is great expectations a good book