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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Discuss the Bildungsroman stages of innocence and snobbery for Pip and Estella in Great Expectations.

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Great Expectations is not only a Bildungsroman itself, but offers an exploration of the ideas of development behind the genre. A Bildungsroman is a novel about education, psychological development, and coming of age. In Pip's case, however, his education in how to be a gentleman is in danger of turning him into a shallow snob. He has to undergo further development to undo this damage and allow him to stop being ashamed of Joe and Biddy, who are two of the most genuine and decent characters in the novel. This is a partial return to the innocence of his childhood, before he was corrupted by snobbery.

Although Miss Havisham turns out not to have been Pip's benefactor, his education in snobbery does begin with his visit to Satis House, before there is any thought of his "great expectations." It is here that he loses his innocence and learns to be ashamed of his background.

Estella, by the time Pip encounters her, has lost her innocence long ago and is a malignant snob, used by Miss Havisham as an instrument to create unhappiness in others. Sneering at Pip's lack of social polish may appear rather trivial compared with breaking hearts, but it has a profound and lasting effect on him, which takes years to shake off. Only then can he help Estella to escape from the malign influence that has poisoned her life so long and so effectively, and it is by no means certain, even at the end of the novel, that she will succeed in doing so.

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