Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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So you’re going to teach Great Expectations. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, Charles Dickens's classic novel has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations and remains one of his most iconic texts. While it has its challenges—a Victorian prose style, depictions of violence, and depictions of sexism—teaching this novel to your class will prove rewarding for you and your students. Studying Great Expectations will expose students to the rhetorical power of literary devices like allusion and symbolism and encourage them to engage with worthwhile themes, such as gender roles and social inequality in Victorian England. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1861
  • Recommended Grade Level: 7th and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 183,350
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Country of Origin: England
  • Genre: Bildungsroman, Gothic Fiction
  • Literary Period: Victorian
  • Conflict: Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: First-Person
  • Setting: London and Kent, England, early 1800s
  • Structure: Prose
  • Mood: Reflective, Nostalgic, Sorrowful, Humorous

Texts that Go Well with Great Expectations

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. From 1851 to 1853, Cranford was published in eight installments in Household Words, a magazine edited by Charles Dickens. The novel, which seems to have no central plot, is an excellent example of how serialization—the common Victorian practice of releasing novels in journals or magazines over a long period of time— can impact the structure and plot of a text. 

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Like Great Expectations, David Copperfield, published in 1850, is a bildungsroman that follows the development of its main character from childhood to adulthood. Like most bildungsroman novels, David Copperfield is an educational, albeit humorous and melodramatic, text showing how David improves himself as he perseveres through numerous hardships. 

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. Published in 1874, Far From the Madding Crowd is another iconic Victorian text. Like Great Expectations, the novel describes a young man who falls in love with a hostile young woman of privilege. The man, a shepherd named Gabriel Oak, proposes marriage to the beautiful Bathsheba Everdene. However, Bathsheba values her independence too much and initially does not think Gabriel is good enough. After both characters endure a series of trials, they are eventually drawn together. 

The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, otherwise known as Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding. Though it was published in 1749, nearly a century before Great Expectations, Tom Jones is also a bildungsroman that follows the life story of a young man who was abandoned as a baby and learns about his roots as he grows up. Furthermore, Tom Jones is one of the earliest English texts to be classified as a novel and greatly influenced novelists like Charles Dickens. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Published in 1847, Jane Eyre is a classic British bildungsroman that follows the spiritual and moral development of its protagonist. Similar to Pip, Jane Eyre is an orphan and an outcast who seeks belongingness as well as self-sufficiency. Furthermore, Jane Eyre is also part of the gothic genre because it incorporates supernatural elements into its plot in order to emphasize key themes.

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Key Plot Points