Great Expectations. A brief background on Dickens’s life, and an analysis of setting, plot, conflict, symbolism, characterization, and theme. Charles Dickens.
Great Expectations A brief background on Dickens’s life, and an analysis of setting, plot, conflict, symbolism, characterization, and theme.
Charles Dickens • Dickens was born into a middle class family. His irresponsible father, John, landed in debtor’s prison in 1824, forcing Charles (12) to find lodgings for himself and work full-time in a London factory, pasting labels on bottles. Although he was reunited with his family after several months, this dreadful experience had a lasting impact, introducing him to the harsh world of the Victorian underclass and influencing some recurring motifs in his work, such as the abandonment of children.
Charles Dickens • Dickens left school at the age of 15 to become a clerk in a law office. Several years later he started working as a reporter, sharpening his skill at observing people from all classes and recording their everyday speech. He was also drawn to literature and the theater. His early stories and sketches were published in 1836 under the name “Boz.” He then set out to write his first novel.
Charles Dickens • Like all of his longer novels, The Pickwick Papersinitially appeared in magazine installments and later was published in bound volumes. It was an immediate success, and rocketed Dickens to fame at the age of 24. • Dickens proceeded to write more novels at a fast pace. His novels from this early period are characterized by their high-spirited humor and sprawling plots. His shorter work A Christmas Carol, was published in 1843, attacked greed and hardness of heart, and contains one of the immortal characters in English lit – Ebenezer Scrooge.
Charles Dickens • Dickens became an international celebrity and a prominent journalist. However, his public triumphs coincided with personal unhappiness. • He married Catherine Hogarth in 1836, and they had ten children together. Although Dickens enjoyed family life, he gradually became estranged from his wife, and they separated in 1858. In the 1850s, he developed a close relationship with a young actress named Ellen Ternan.
Charles Dickens • Beginning in the late 1840s, Dickens’s novels grew increasingly critical of Victorian society. These novels display his development as a writer and reflect a deeper understanding of humanity. Among Dickens’s best-known works are: • Oliver Twist (1838) • David Copperfield (1850) • Bleak House (1853) • Hard Times (1854) • A Tale of Two Cities (1859) • and Great Expectations (1861) • In the late 1860s, Dickens undertook several reading tours that ultimately damaged his health. He died on June 9, 1870, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Great Expectations: Setting • TIME: early 19th century (early 1800s) • PLACE: Dickens set the first section of GE in marshy country called the Medway, where the Thames River begins to mix with seawater. He knew this area well, as he spent the happiest years of his childhood in the Medway town of Chatham. The churchyard with children’s graves is in Cooling, and Pip’s village is probably Cliffe. In 1856, Dickens purchased Gad’s Hill Place, a large house near Rochester (the town where Miss Havisham and Pumblechook live).
Setting • Mood/Atmosphere: How does Dickens create mood through his settings? • It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders’ webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village…was invisible to me until I was quite close under it. [chapter 3]
Plot Climax Falling Action Rising Action Initial Incident Resolution/ Denouement Exposition
Conflicts: Some of which are in GE • Internal Conflict: • Man vs. Self • External Conflict: • Man vs. Man • Man vs. Society • Man vs. Nature • Man vs. Fate
Symbolism • the file • the bridal gown and wedding cake • the gates and Satis House • the marshes • Etc.
Characterization • The basic methods include: • an explicit statement by the author • the character’s appearance • the character’s thoughts, speech, or actions • what others say about the character • Dickens liked to make his characters vivid by emphasizing one particular trait, such as Miss Havisham’s vengefulness or Jaggers’s insistence on sticking to facts. However, with a protagonist like Pip, his approach was much more subtle and complex.
Characterization of some major characters: • Estella • Magwitch • Joe • Jaggers. • Pip • Miss Havisham • Etc.
Flat and Round Characters • Authors create two basic types of characters, flat and round. • Flat characters represent one or two qualities, such as kindness, greed, faithfulness, cruelty, or arrogance. Flat characters are also called static characters because they do not change. Readers never learn of their inner conflicts. • For example, unable to control her class, Mr. Wopsle’s great-aunt might be described as incompetent; however, we never learn of her feelings towards the students, or why she became a teacher.
Flat and Round Characters • Round characters are more fully developed. Often they have conflicting emotions and become involved in both admirable and deplorable actions. • During the course of the story, such characters usually make changes in values, ambitions, or relationships. Thus, they are also called dynamic characters, ones who change as a result of events. • In the early chapters of the book, Pip, discontent with his home and school, is already showing signs of change which will make him eager to move to London.
Ambition and Self-Improvement • Affection, loyalty, and conscience are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class. • Dickens establishes the theme and shows Pip learning this lesson, largely by exploring ideas of ambition and self-improvement—ideas that quickly become both the thematic center of the novel and the psychological mechanism that encourages much of Pip’s development.
Social Class • Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England, ranging from the most wretched criminals (Magwitch) to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham). • The mPerhaps the most important thing to remember about the novel’s treatment of social class is that the class system it portrays is based on the post-Industrial Revolution model of Victorian England. Dickens generally ignores the nobility and the hereditary aristocracy in favor of characters whose fortunes have been earned through commerce. • otifof social class (and the treatment between and among members) is central to the novel’s plot and to the ultimate moral theme of the book
Friendship & Loyalty • Which characters exhibit one or both of these? • How? Why? Under what circumstances? • What is the impact of the exhibition of friendship and / or loyalty? • Who (or what) is changed by this? • Etc.
Crime, Guilt, Innocence, and Revenge: Independently and Interwoven • The motifs of crime, guilt, and innocence are explored throughout the novel largely through the characters of the convicts and the criminal lawyer Jaggers. There is also a sense of judgment inherent to these motifs and the views and actions of various characters.
Revenge and Its Consequences • Examine the consequence of each action: • Arthur conspired to humiliate and defraud his stepsister, Miss Havisham. • Miss Havisham became a bitter woman determined to seek revenge on men. • Miss Havisham adopted a little girl to share her attitude toward men. • Estella became cold-hearted. • Pip could neither give nor receive love from Estella. • Pip changed and began to feel ashamed of himself and his family; he learned new behaviors to try to please Estella. • Joe became uncomfortable around the boy he had raised as a son. • Estella married Bentley Drummle and was abused.
Theme [as it applies to motif] • What does Dickens seem to be saying about revenge? • Who is affected? • Whom does it hurt the most? • Based on the answers to these questions, what universal truth may be presented [as a complete statement] that is not already written as a cliché?
Theme • What are some other motifs / topics? • What does Dickens seem to be saying about those topics? (these are themes)
Irony Mostly situational irony – Miss Havisham’s insistence on living in the past causes her own death, both spiritually and physically. Mrs. Joe’s violent nature is turned back on her. After all the poking early on about being grateful, Pip does show gratitude to Magwitch for everything he did for Pip. Pip was unsatisfied with his life at the forge, but in the end, he realizes how much happier he was before he met Estella, and he appreciates how good Biddy is. What theme can be taken from Pip’s dissatisfaction?
Humor & Exaggeration • There are two passages in chapter 4 that offer excellent examples of how Dickens used exaggeration to show a small boy’s exaggerated view of events.