Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

How does the setting in Great Expectations affect the plot?

Expert Answers

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

The setting of the novel has a great effect on the plot. First of all, in Victorian England social class was very important. A person generally stayed in the class he or she was born in. The poor wanted to be rich, of course. It was more than that though. Pip’s obsession with being a gentleman has less to do with money and more to do with what money can do for him. It was uncommon for people to marry out of social class, so he cannot marry Estella while he is only a blacksmith’s apprentice.

The physical setting matters too. Pip’s home is set in the marshlands where Dickens was raised. The headstones he muses over are based on a real cemetery in Rochester. By using the marshlands, the story takes on an autobiographical quality and Dickens definitely used his life to influence the events of the plot.

If Pip had not lived in the marshlands, he would not have been found by the fleeing convict and would not have received his money. The entire plot depends on the marshlands and Miss Havisham’s spooky, derelict house. It warps Pip’s views of wealth and love, and is a large part of the plot in the book.

London is another important setting in the book. London is a place of excess and temptation. There is also danger there. Pip has to choose between forgetting who he was and forging a new, more superficial life.

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
Approved by eNotes Editorial