Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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1. Pip is an orphan boy, a blacksmith's assistant living with his sister and her husband in a small English village. How does Pip visualize his dead parents? Does the boy suffer from want and privation? Why is Pip's life with his sister so unpleasant? Would you agree that Dickens takes pains to present young Pip with great sympathy?

2. Why is Pip's confrontation with the escaped convict traumatic? What circumstances make this vivid scene in the marshes so terrifying? Although the reader does not realize it at the time, this event is central to the story. Why?

3. Eccentric old Miss Havisham summons Pip to wheel her about and be a companion to her ward, Estella. But what is her real motive? Why is she embittered against men? Is she believable as a character?

4. Pip's life as a blacksmith's apprentice comes to a sudden end with the arrival of the lawyer, Mr. Jaggers. What surprising disclosure does Mr. Jaggers make? How does it change Pip's life?

5. Pip goes to London to become educated as an English gentleman. What happens to him in his life there? Would you agree that he becomes less admirable? How does Dickens criticize the concept of the "English gentleman" in the figure of Pip?

6. In London, Pip once again meets Estella. Is he still attracted to her? What is the source of her irresistible appeal to him? Why is he convinced that Miss Havisham secretly favors their marriage?

7. One day in London Pip meets Magwitch, the convict whom he befriended as a boy. What does Pip discover from Magwitch about the identity of his benefactor? Why is Pip deeply upset by the disclosure?

8. On learning that Magwitch has returned illegally to England, Pip once more undertakes to help him escape from the authorities. How do Pip's feelings toward the old man change? Do these changes suggest that Pip has become more mature? What ultimately happens to Magwitch?

9. In the original ending, Pip returns to his job as a blacksmith without hope of winning Estella. Do you think that ending is more artistically right than the final version in which Pip goes back to Estella? Are you satisfied with the happy ending that Dickens was persuaded to adopt?

10. What are the principal themes of the novel?

11. Which elements in the story appeal more strongly to you, plot or character? What are the main strengths and weaknesses of plot and characterization?

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