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Copy of Great Expectations Background

Information about Charles Dickens and the novel Great Expectations.
by

Susan Shank

on 15 March 2015

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Transcript of Copy of Great Expectations Background

by Charles Dickens
The opening pages
Pip's name
Pip names himself, taking his destiny into his own hands. His name is a palindrome, which echoes the adult Pip looking back on his childhood.
Names
Pip means a seed from a fruit like an orange. The seed suggests potential growth.
for the English, the phrase means one will come into a great fortune
The title
suggests that the future holds more than the present
the present is somewhat inadequate, unsatisfactory
Other characters' names
Estella - a star - cold, distant, unattainable
Hav-i-SHAM
Joe- average Joe
Jaggers- sharp and dangerous
Ghostly characters haunt Pip and upset his life. The Convict's seizing Pip and turning him upside down is symbolically repeated throughout the novel by others.
The setting at the close of chapter one focuses on two images: the beacon and the gibbet. The beacon suggests light and guidance; the gibbet suggests punishment. These ideas are repeated as Pip chooses between two paths again and again in the book (and starts with the duality of home: Joe vs. Mrs. Joe).
The Platonic Theory (beacon)
This theory holds that education is the process of "leading forth" form a person knowledge that was already known somewhere inside of the person
Education is putting someone in touch with innate knowledge
Joe and Biddy are constant reminders of the good that is within Pip.
Joe encourages Pip to overcome egotism, self centeredness, and superficial values.
Joe represents faithfulness and honesty in relationships and the necessity of doing one's duty.
Joe stands opposed to lies, limits of property, and pretension of fashion.
The Religious Theory (the gibbet)
Suggests that education is the process of "leading out" demons/ghosts that "haunt" a person's spirit
Education is a way to eliminate what haunts or controls a person
Pip is tempted to scorn Joe whose thick hands and boots become symbols of the less sophisticated and the unacceptable.
Pip abandons Joe out of shame, desire, and ungratefulness.
Like names, Dickens uses places to establish character. Environments shape and reflect character.
Walworth, Wemmick's house, protects him from the harsh world in which he lives and works. Behind the drawbridge, he can at last relax and indulge in comfort and happiness.
The forge, linked to Joe, helps purify. Joe represents steadfast goodness.
The law office of Jaggers is dirty, disordered, and disturbing, just like the questionable ethics of the lawyer and his clients.
Satis House, Miss Havisham's tomb-like abode, reflects her stagnant life. Satis means "satisfied"; however, Miss Havisham is never satisfied.
Appearances have little to do with a person's worth or happiness.
THEMES
Wealth does not guarantee happiness; in fact, money often brings unhappiness.
More money, more problems.
Selfless love is the only true love.
Love and kindness can allay human suffering.
Those who seek revenge most commonly hurt themselves.
Friendship and love grow through shared hardships and cannot be bought or sold.
England in the 1800s
The setting of the novel echoes Dickens's background
The setting establishes the mood, sets the tone, and carries symbolic aspects
Queen Victoria influenced English culture. Her reign lasted 60 years. When Great Expectations was published in 1860-1861, she had been on the throne for 23 years. Her influence over Dickens's times can be compared to Queen Elizabeth's influence over Shakespeare's times.
The novel is divided into three stages
Life's journey
1. childhood
2. adolescence
3. adulthood
Pip's Spiritual Journey
1. innocence
2. sin
3. redemption
Great Expectations
Dickens creates clear cut characters. When you meet someone ask yourself-- Is this person admirable? humorous? memorable? a prince or princess? a witch or a fairy godmother?
The Life of Dickens
His Times
Born in 1812 at Portsmouth, England
Wrote GE at age 48 in 1860
Separated from wife Catherine (they had 10 kids); her sister Mary lived with them, and Dickens was very attached to her. When she died at a young age, he immortalized her in several characters in his novels.
Haunted by rumors of infidelity with 18 year old actress, Ellen Ternan (he was infatuated with her; and she may be basis for Pip's love for Estella)
His father's went to debtor's prison, and, as a child, he was forced to work in a factory labeling bottles. Resented his older sister who studied at Royal Academy of Music, and hurt by his parents' lack of interest in his education.
During his early adult life, he was rejected by a banker's daughter. He felt socially inferior.
He always fights for the "underdog" -- orphans, prisoners, society's outcasts.
He traveled to America to read from his novels -- but he did not like the vanity of Americans, their lack of obeying copyright laws, and their regard for slavery.
He died of a paralytic stroke in June 1870; he was 58
He lay in an open grave in Westminster Abbey for three days -- thousands of mourners came to pay their respects
Dickens' style
Influenced by emotions
Didactic
Vivid description
Writes about personal experience with social evils
Interest in fairytales
Biblical allusions from early childhood teachings
Follies and absurdities of human nature
Characters are truly good or truly evil
Writes about common people and problems
Misunderstood and often mocked
Coincidental plots; chance meetings
Serialized novels for magazines
Uses humor and melodrama
Exaggerations and stylistic excesses
Weak endings -- always wants to forgive
Fondness for premonitions
He believed that in order to defend the dignity of man it was necessary to uphold and cherish the individual
Social Class and the Gentleman
19th century was a time of rapid, confusing, violent social change
Wealth became more cash based rather than land based
New middle class with more power
Gentleman by right of birth, but birth alone could not make a gentleman; a man's character contributed to his status
Become a gentleman by virtue of economic and political power
Clergy, military, and politicians regarded as gentleman by virtue of occupation.
Strong moral component
Prison Hulks
large ships without masts
once used in battle, but now held prisoners awaiting transportation to the colonies (especially Australia)
moored near a dockyard to utilize labor of convicts
wretched with disease and death
sentence was usually for 7 years or even life
some worked hard, saved money, and became settlers or returned to England
Coming of Age Story
centers on lessons a person learns growing from youth to adulthood
Bildungsroman (bildung = education and formation; roman = novel)
moral, psychological, and social development of Pip
Told from first-person protagonist point of view
events not fully accurate
lying or omitting details and exaggerating others
tool, conscious choice of author and it is the reader's best interest to consider why the author has made this choice, and how it impacts the story
DO NOT confuse the narrator with the author
Setting
Kent in southeastern England
20 miles from North Sea
Mists roll in from shore
Marshes
Churchyard where he meets convict
Characters
Pip -- main character; orphan of humble background; wants to become a gentleman
Mrs. Joe -- Pip's older sister; raises him by hand; nagging and shrewish
Joe Gargery -- husband of Pip's sister; strong blacksmith with a gentle heart
Pumblechook -- Joe's uncle; actor and manipulator
Estella -- Miss Havisham's adopted daughter; she is proud and cold
Miss Havisham -- wealthy, eccentric spinster who lives a reclusive life after being "left at the altar". She has an adopted daughter, Estella.
Compeyson -- smooth-talking swindler who pretends to love Miss Havisham in order to get her money. Representative of Cain in the story of the two brothers. The name is French for companion.
Arthur Havisham -- Miss Havisham's half-brother who conspires against her
Jaggers -- Miss Havisham's lawyer; handles Pip's inheritance
Abel Magwitch -- escaped convict who confronts Pip in churchyard. Later goes by name of Provis. The Abel part of the two brothers in the Bible. Able means "showing unusual ability". Magwitch is half magic and witch. Provis means to prove or show truth.
Biddy -- Pip's teacher and friend to Joe; a mother hen who watches over Pip and Joe. Also means cleaning woman or hired girl
Bentley Drummle -- like a drum; one of Pip's fellow students in England. He loves Estella. He's loud and abusive; known as "The Spider" -- weaves a web of deceit.
Startop -- Pip's other roommate in England; lively, bright young fellow. Helps Pip navigate the river
The Pockets -- Herbert Pocket is Pip's roommate in London. His family is after Miss Havisham's inheritance. Name means to take possession, often dishonestly; deep pockets -- money
Wemmick -- Jagger's bill collector; owner of Walworth; lives a double life.
Aged Parent -- Wemmick's father
Miss Skiffins -- Wemmick's fiancee
Dolge Orlick -- mean tempered journeyman who works for Joe. His name sounds like a character to be dodged. Last name suggests sludge, dirtiness and something primeval and uncivilized.
Symbols, Motifs, Allusions
Light vs. Dark
Shadows
Weather (rain, fog, etc.)
Spiders (names/cake)
Time (clock)
Cinderella
Noah's Ark
Garden
Locks and Keys
Pip is one Dickens' orphans
A young man with unrealistic expectations
A young brat who adopts the superior manners of a gentleman (an unearned position)
Detests his lowly origins and feels ashamed in the company of men of a higher social class than his
Key to Dickens' Characters
They are all great fools
Above wisdom and not below it
Capacity for self-destruction
Creates havoc (chaos)
Trapped by lies and their vulnerability to the lies of others
Full transcript