Thursday, February 28, 2013

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This book was my much-anticipated leap into the wilderness of Dickens. I knew next to nothing about the plot (I think I had it a little mixed up with David Copperfield and Oliver Twist), so ironically, I jumped into it with few expectations at all.

If you are anything like me and need some informing about the plot line, the story follows young Pip, an orphan being "brought up by hand" by his rather unloving sister and his kind but ignorant brother-in-law Joe. Pip gets into some trouble, meets some rich people, and decides that he isn't at all happy with his life and his future as he knows it (he's destined to become a blacksmith), and he dreams of being a gentleman. Then one day he discovers that he is about to "come into property," and he has "great expectations" by the hand of a mysterious benefactor. 

Of course, I've left out some important details, but that's the gist of it. The story is about Pip growing up, making some foolish mistakes, and in the end, learning what's truly important in life. 

I love books like this, that are long enough and deep enough that I get to go through the journey with the character. I fell in love with little Pip in the beginning and hoped someday I would have a little boy just like him; so clever, but innocent. I mourned the loss of the innocent little boy when he fell into bad influences, allowing Miss Havisham and Estella to make him feel bad about himself and his position in life. I wanted to shake him and tell him that his own Joe and Biddy were worth ten times Miss Havisham and Estella, if only he would open his eyes. Then, of course, was his period of becoming worthless and irresponsible while he waited idly upon the realization of his "expectations," in which I could hardly stand him. 
It was all this that made it such a tender joy when Pip finally woke up and realized everything that he was missing. Finally, he realized that the poor little orphan of years ago was worth much more than the rich, proud gentleman he had lately been. Finally, he realized that loyalty and love matter so much more than sophistication and wealth. And finally, I fell in love with Pip again. 

I read this lovely collector's
I almost wonder if Dickens created Pip from his disappointment in his own children. Dickens himself had been employed and taking care of himself (and even his parents) since he was a teenager; he was clearly disappointed in his sons, who didn't seem to have this kind of initiative or drive. Maybe Dickens wished his sons were more like him; perhaps he never considered that his sons had not been forced to find employment from a young age, as he had been. Maybe he harbored hopes that his sons would someday learn what he considered the value of hard work, as Pip finally does in the end of Great Expectations. 

I think what makes GE one of Dickens's greatest novels is how, even though the story itself is fantastic and exciting, it's completely relateable. As Pip started becoming ashamed of Joe and his ignorance, I thought with some pangs of guilt of how I sometimes felt similarly about my own family when I was a teenager. Of course, I loved them, and I don't think I ever felt ashamed of them to the point that Pip does, but there were times when they did things I didn't understand, and I almost wished they were different. It was personal and emotional for me when Pip realized how special and wonderful his family was; I know mine is just as special and wonderful, and just as deserving of respect and love. 

I think my leap into Dickens was a success! I'm looking forward to reading more of his works. 

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