No other age excelled in first person narratives than the Victorian Era and who better than Charles Dickens could be ts finest exponent? With ‘David Copperfield’, safely under his belt, he diligently set out to write one of his finest, ‘Great Expectations‘ which is very similar to the former yet also vastly different. Both have the trademark autobiographical touch in the story and follow the conventional chronological order which the later modernists despised so vehemently. Yet ‘Great Expectations‘ while following the life of Pip, also comments on the English life of that time particularly its artificiality.
The novel is about Pip, an orphan who lives with his domineering sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery and her amiable blacksmith husband, Joe. As a child, Pip coincidentally happened to meet an escaped convict in the marshes. The latter threatened and scared Pip into bringing him victuals which Pip obediently albeit deceitfully(by stealing) brought for the convict the next day. Later on in his youth, he is regularly called on to visit a certain Miss Havisham, who is a rich, old lady stuck in the past. These visits are nothing short of eccentric and humiliating for the young Pip. Humiliating particularly due to Estella’s cruelty of reminding him often of his low class and unworthy status. Consequently, Pip too begins to perceive his situations and his relatives in a poor light, as being unrefined and plain dumb. He desperately wants to get out of such a situation and pretty soon a golden opportunity presents itself before him. Pip comes into a large chunk of wealth and is sent to London to be educated. In short all his great expectations are to come true because in short he becomes a gentleman. The twist is that his benefactor wants to remain anonymous and will only reveal him/herself as and when appropriate. Thus Pip climbs the social ladder under the illusion that his benefactor is indeed a benefactress-Miss Havishman. The revelation of the identity of his benefactor/ess leaves him stupefied in the end and changes his worldviews at that.
I believe that I am a novice to give a prolonged commentary on such a critically acclaimed classic. All I can state is that ‘Great Expectations‘ met all my expectations of reading an engaging Dickens’ novel. The plot is punctuated with the quintessential Dickensian characters-the hypocrite Pumblechook, the warm hearted Joe who is Pip’s best friend, the patient Biddy, bipolar Wemmick, ever the optimist Herbert who is Pip’s closest friend- and scores of others that make the entire story come alive. Coupled with Dickens’ famous biting humour and satire, ‘Great Expectations‘ is a lighthearted novel that makes you laugh in the most serious scenes and other such unlikely places.
The one fault was the sensationalism of ‘Great Expectations.’ Of course, this was in keeping with the norm of serialization of novels during that time which compelled the writers to keep each episode exciting and melodramatic. Moreover, Dickens himself was strongly influenced by the sensationalist movement that emerged in the 1860s’. These two reasons account for the dramatic tone of the novel. Though legitimate reasons in themselves, it is quite incongruous to read a style that only startles and shocks. In the India of today where sensationalism is a the norm, subtlety is much appreciated. But barring the sensationalist factor of the novel, ‘Great Expectations‘, is wholesome and is sure to entertain, tickle your funny bone and even compel you to examine your own position(as the novel makes Pip examine at every turn of the story) in a class and status obsessed society of today.