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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Why is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens a bildungsroman novel?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is a bildungsroman novel in that it deals with the intellectual and moral formation of its protagonist. In this particular story, that means Pip. Great Expectations tells his story as he moves from childhood to adulthood, growing in wisdom and maturity as the action progresses.

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Though some critics have argued that Great Expectations isn’t a pure bildungsroman in that it incorporates a number of other genres, it nonetheless displays the basic qualities one would associate with the bildungsroman genre. Like its German predecessors, such as Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, it deals with the intellectual, psychological, and moral growth of a clearly identified protagonist. In Great Expectations, that protagonist is Pip, whom we follow from childhood right through to adulthood.

Along the way, Pip becomes a different person and changes from the "common laboring boy" living in a humble blacksmith’s cottage on the Romney Marshes to a young gentleman about town. But even then he hasn’t finished his moral and intellectual development. Pip comes to realize just what a frightful snob he’s been and reclaims some of the humility he left behind when he headed off to London to live the life of a gentleman at Abel Magwitch’s expense.

By the end of the story, Pip is older, wiser, and considerably more mature than he was at the start. In true bildungsroman style, we have been privileged to witness the formation and transformation of a single individual for whom we feel great sympathy.

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Great Expectations is a classic bildungsroman novel, or a coming-of-age novel. It tells the story of Pip as he grows from ten years old to twenty-three, and it's largely centered around him trying to find his place in the world. Like many bildungsromans, this book begins with an encounter (with the convict) that brings the protagonist's own mortality to his attention, and it continues to center on themes of Pip's struggles with finding love, finding his place in the class structure of his society, and figuring out how to relate to his family and his hometown. Great Expectations is taught so frequently in part because it epitomizes the concept of a bildungsroman novel. Pip moves from loneliness and fear to naivety and ambition and finally to a certain kind of humility, gratitude, and wisdom.

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Bildungsroman is a term used for a "coming-of-age" story, which details the maturation of a young character from childhood to adulthood. Great Expectations specifically tells the coming-of-age story of Pip, who begins the novel at seven years old and is twenty-three at the novel's conclusion.

In the story, we see Pip mature from a young boy into a man. Pip develops from a powerless boy in his abusive sister's household into an apprentice, learning a trade for himself. He then develops even more independence as he moves in with his friend Herbert in London. We see Pip build up debts, receive money from a "mysterious benefactor," and then make the decision to refuse the money once he realizes it is coming from the convict he once met. He matures emotionally as he grapples with money, the complexities of Magwitch's moral character, and his relationship with Estella.

Most importantly, we see Pip grow to possess self-reliance, humility, self-reflection, and a greater understanding of...

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authenticity and his place in the world.

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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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