Great Expectations: Areas for Discussion Dickens originally published the novel in serial form (weekly parts) and then later it was released it in three parts. How would the reading experience be different, if you were reading it in three parts as opposed to a few chapters at a time?
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Dickens is famous not just for writing really long, complex novels but for packing them full of social commentary. What impression do you get of London society after reading Great Expectations? What elements of society does Dickens seem to be criticizing?
‘In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.’ (I.VIII p33)
(Miss H) ‘You made your own snares. I never made them.’ (III. XLIV p194)
Which characters are trapped in GE? Why and how are they trapped? Thematic significance of this?
‘The change was made in me; the thing was done. Well or ill done, excusably or inexcusably, it was done.’ (I.XIVp57)
What is the novel's overall feeling about great expectations? Is it wrong to have hopes, dreams and plans—or is Pip just dreaming the wrong ones? Which characters also have their great expectations failed/unfulfilled?
‘I thought how miserable I was, but hardly knew why, or how long I had been so, or on what day of the week I made the reflection, or even who I was that made it.’ (III. XL p177)
Which characters in the novel are truly happy? Which characters have low self-worth and are passive/accepting of what life gives them?
(Estella) ‘I am tired of the life I have led, which has very few charms for me, and I am willing enough to change it. Say no more. We shall never understand each other.’ (III. XLIV p196)
Look at Estella’s lack of emotion and one of the few moments when we see her react with passion (lesson learnt from Miss Havisham.) What does Dickens convey about emotions/passions? (Remember to compare this with Louisa and Sissy’s experience in HT.
‘No varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself.’ (II. XXII p97)
Which characters delude/disguise their true selves in the novel? Why do they do this? What is it to achieve? What do you think Dickens’ view on this is?
‘I went out to the memorable old house that it would have been so much better for me never to have entered, never to have seen.’ (III. XLIII p193)
Many characters have moments of realization/awareness during the course of the novel. Who experiences this and what impact does it have on their happiness, lives, plot, theme etc.? (Remember to compare to Louisa’s realization in HT.)