Why is Great Expectations a classic?

Great Expectations is considered a classic because of its relevant themes, superb plot construction, and memorable characters and imagery. For example, the theme of prejudice based on one's social class is still relevant today.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A classic is defined as a work of art that transcends its own time, remaining relevant and entertaining to generations of audiences long afterward. Classics also tend to be first-rate examples of their chosen mediums or genres. Many of Dickens's novels have attained this status, but Great Expectations is one...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

A classic is defined as a work of art that transcends its own time, remaining relevant and entertaining to generations of audiences long afterward. Classics also tend to be first-rate examples of their chosen mediums or genres. Many of Dickens's novels have attained this status, but Great Expectations is one of the most loved by critics and scholars.

Great Expectations is a classic because its themes of social class are still relevant. While technologies, social norms, and fashions have changed since the novel was serialized in the early 1860s, human nature has not. Pip's desire to better himself by becoming a gentleman is still relatable, even if now people increase their social status by seeking celebrity status rather than by taking on the manners of nobility.

The book is also considered a good example of plot construction and characterization. Even among Dickens's works, the characters here are particularly rich, including the complicated Estella, a standout among Dickens's more sentimental treatment of female characters. The book is also packed with memorable, gothic images that have remained in the cultural consciousness: Pip and Magwitch's meeting in the graveyard, Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress, and Pip and Estella's shadows merging in the final scene.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Meaningful plots and superb characters make classics.  Few novels ever are designated as classics without intriguing characters, and Dickens is an absolute master at creating memorable characters.  For, who has read A Tale of Two Cities ever forgets Madame Defarge, who has read or seen "A Christmas Carol" ever forgets Scrooge?  And, who has read Great Expectations and does not remember the innocent child who is ridiculed for no reason--who has not experienced this same gratuitous cruelty? And, who ever forgets the eccentric Miss Havisham?  How bizarre, yet understandable, is she?

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I haven't come across many other novels that are as dense and meaningful as Dickens's Great Expectations.  While I've had students moan and groan at the prospect of having to read it (I think mostly because they've heard it's long and know that they'll HAVE to read it), they generally come to understand just how masterfully Dickens is able to give us insight into human interaction and the human spirit.  (Take, for example, the open-ended essay on the AP exam; Great Expectations is the third most frequently listed novel, because it examines so many different aspects of both intra- and inter-personal relationships. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In response to #3, I absolutely agree with you.  The canon is definitely judged by these standards, so there are many that aren't in the canon that should be, in my opinion.  I'm very glad you brought this up because it is a very, very good point!

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I have to throw in a bit of a warning here.  I don't care for Dickens much, but that's really beside the point. 

While it is true that "great works" stand the test of time, for the majority of history, those who have bestowed this mantle of superiority have been men, mostly white men, in the Academy.  For hundreds of years, it has been men who decide what goes into an anthology.  Therefore, these texts are read over and over again and eventually are deemed "great."  Works of equal or even "greater" brilliance have been dismissed or considered not up to par with the writings of women and minorities. 

The standards by which a book enters the canon, therefore, are judged by the values those men hold.  As one of my favorite critics, Nina Baym, argues, there is a "bias in favor of things male -- in favor of say, a whaling ship rather than a sewing circle, as a symbol of the human community."

Just something to chew on. 

 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A book is considered a classic when it stands the test of time and appeals to generation after generation of readers and is relevant to all of them.

As a classic book, Great Expectations, contains vivid characters who struggle for survival, discover love, encounter failure, work hard and achieve success.  Dickens fills his novel with real experiences filled with alienation, lonliness, ambition, success, failure, family, and self-discovery. Pip grows up in this novel and his journey is very relevant to the human experience. 

"However, modern critics have little but praise for Dickens' brilliant development of timeless themes: fear and fun, loneliness and luck, classism and social justice, humiliation and honor."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on