Why is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens a bildungsroman novel?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A bildungsroman is often called a coming-of-age novel because it is usually a story about the mental and moral growth of a young person into adulthood. Great Expectations is definitely a bildungsroman because it is mainly concerned about the experiences that form Pip's character until he is twenty-three. The novel begins when he is ten years old and meets the escaped convict in the churchyard. The climax is in Chapter XXXIX when Pip is twenty-three years old and meets that same convict again. During these thirteen years, Pip has become a London gentleman. There has been some improvement in his character because he has worked assiduously to educate himself. An illiterate working boy in Chapter I, Pip now he has the manners of a gentleman. His early years as the foster son of an honest working man give him a moral foundation unknown to the typical London gentleman. Pip is the narrator of the entire novel, and it is credible he has the ability to write a novel like Great Expectations and that his extensive reading gave him taste, values, and understanding. Unfortunately, Pip's acquired understanding and sensitivity make him realize that, like many gentlemen and ladies, he has also become a fop and a parasite. He didn't mind that so much when he thought Miss Havisham was his secret patron and that he would be able to marry Estelle, but his world collapses when he finds out his patron was Abel Magwitch, the escaped convict, who supported Pip and now feels he owns him. Pip has not become a true gentleman, just Magwitch's idea of a gentleman. This discovery is part of the bildungsroman. Pip's decision to stay with Magwitch and help him escape from England is the culmination of his coming of age. In the end, Pip achieves maturity, humility, self-reliance, and an understanding of himself and humanity. One of the important things Pip finally comes to understand is that fine gentlemen and ladies are sustained by the humble working men and women of this world.

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Great Expectations

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