Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Examples of humor and irony in Great Expectations

Summary:

In Great Expectations, humor and irony are exemplified through characters and situations, such as Pip's misconceptions about wealth and gentility, and the absurdity of Mr. Pumblechook's self-importance. Dickens often uses irony to highlight societal flaws, like the justice system's incompetence through the character of Mr. Wopsle, who becomes an inept actor. These elements underscore the novel's critique of social class and ambition.

Expert Answers

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

What are some examples of Dickensian humor in Great Expectations?

The episode in which Pip attends the production of Hamlet with the foolishly deluded Mr. Wopsle as Hamlet is humorous. The entire description of Pip's attendance at this ridiculous performance is hilarious. Chapter XXXI opens with this satiric observation,

ON OUR ARRIVAL in Denmark, we found the king and queen of that country elevated in two arm-chairs on a kitchen-table, holding a Court.

Pip chronicles Wopsle's pathetic performance as he is unprepared and completely discombobulated:

The royal phantom also carried a ghostly manuscript round its truncheon, to which it had the appearance of occasionally referring, and that, too, with an air of anxiety and a tendency to lose the place of reference which were suggestive of a state of mortality.

The audience become raucous and hurls vegetables at the farcical performance of the ridiculously pretentious "Mr. Waldengarver" that Pip even has to laugh at "from ear to ear." After the play, Pip tries to leave without encountering Wopsle, but is halted by a man "heavy of eyebrow" and ends up having dinner with the actor who is so unrealistic that he feels his performance adequate. 

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

What are some examples of Dickensian humor in Great Expectations?

There is humour in even in some of the  darkest moments of the novel. I have a fondness for Wemmick and his father, but I particularly enjoyed Pip fainting with fear as the soldiers arrive at the door. He believes they are to take him for assisting the convict, when of course they are innocent to his involvement. There is much humour - and tragedy- in such miscommunication and presumption.

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

What are some examples of Dickensian humor in Great Expectations?

Dickens' characterization really drives much of the humor in Great Expectations.  One really funny scene is the dinner party when Mr. Gargery retells the story of his life to Pip and discreetly ladles gravy onto Pip's plate when Mrs. Gargery keeps getting onto him.

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

What are examples of humour and irony in the first 10 chapters of Great Expectations?

Much of the humor in Great Expectations comes from Dickens's detailed descriptions of his larger-than-life characters. For instance, Uncle Pumblechook is described as "a large, hard-breathing, middle-aged, slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head." Mr. Wopsle, for his part, is described as a man who has "united a Roman nose and a large shining bald forehead." The relationship between Joe Gargery and Mrs. Joe also generates more than its fair share of humor. Poor old Joe is so scared of his domineering wife that he secretly offers gravy to Pip during Christmas dinner as if it were some sort of illicit or criminal act.

There is much situational irony in the earlier chapters. For instance, Estella likes to put on airs and graces, believing herself destined for a life as a lady of quality. In reality, she's the daughter of a gypsy and a convict. A more humorous variety of irony comes in the shape of Matthew Pocket, who writes books advising parents on how to raise their children but has no time for his own kids.

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

What are examples of humour and irony in the first 10 chapters of Great Expectations?

I will give you two examples of both irony and humor, in chapters 1 and chapter 2.

Pip’s encounter with the convict in chapter 1 is full of irony and humor.  All of the irony does not become apparent until later, when we find out the full effect of this terrifying event.  The event that defines Pip’s childhood also defines his adult life, since Magwitch sends him the money for his “great expectations.”  Although Pip is frightened, the reader’s reaction is more humor.

Another example of both humor and irony is Tickler in chapter 2, the name for Mrs. Joe’s cane. 

Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane, worn smooth by collision with my tickled frame. (ch 2)

The name Tickler is very ironic, and some might find it funny (although it is bitter humor) that the cane would be named Tickler.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on