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SparkNotes: Great Expectations: Chapters 40–46
Dickens is very good on the social power of money, but his need to punish Pip for loving money—he almost dies—strikes us as extravagant. After all, the young man’s great expectations were always illusory. Shouldn’t he be punished for having so little purpose? Dickens, we realize, operated on a different moral system. For him, the virtues are loyalty, decency, fellow-feeling, sincerity, not authenticity, erotic passion, self-fulfillment, achievement. His own life was one of unending labor; the books that he produced (“Little Dorrit” comes next for me), however long we ignore them, eventually claim us again, if not quite with the same intellectual and moral power then certainly with same power to amaze. No one gives greater pleasure.
At last, after many resolutions abandoned, I read “Great Expectations” and fell into a happiness granted rarely to any reader. The marvellous fable at the heart of it feels like a twisted fairy tale (Dickens was friends with Hans Christian Andersen, who showed up at Dickens’s country house, in 1857, and refused to leave for five weeks). Its hero, Pip, comes to consciousness, at least for the purpose of this first-person narrative, when he is seven, an orphan boy mulling over the tombstones of his parents and little brothers. A convict, Magwitch, rises up from a grave and threatens to cut his heart and liver out if he doesn’t run home for some food. A mysterious bequest follows, seemingly presided over by the demented and vengeful Miss Havisham, a living ghost who celebrates her own romantic disaster, using her beautiful ward, Estella, as an instrument of revenge. The bequest falls from the sky like a shower of gold greeting a newly crowned tsar. Pip, raised by a country working-class family, will be a gentleman. It is a fable that appeals to our love of social advancement, a new life, fresh experience.
Water Symbolism In Great Expectations Free Essays
An ecstasy of disgust—rot, rot, rot! It’s the smell of shit, impossible to get out of your nostrils or your clothes. No contemporary writer could be more explicit. Dickens is the poet, as well, of foul weather, of mist and murk. How consistently he makes you realize in “Great Expectations” that people in the early nineteenth century lived, and often groped, in the dark much of the time.
What’s remarkable about these flourishes, apart from their vicious exactitude in nailing the varieties of the grotesque, is how easily they read, how they appear tossed off in the normal exercise of powers almost Shakespearian in their strength. What I had forgotten was Dickens’s joy in writing, which he shares with the reader. You are rooting for him to take chances, to score, to go for it, to reach for the seemingly irrelevant detail, the louche metaphor. He exhibits so exuberant and generous a degree of writerly candor and companionability that the reader is always loyal to him: this man is happily working to entertain us. The nastiness, which comes more frequently than his reputation would lead you to expect, is itself an aspect of his generosity to the living world. George Orwell remarked in an essay on Dickens, from 1939, that though Dickens had attacked the entire British establishment (law, parliament, nobility, educational system, etc.), no one was personally mad at him. It was almost universally felt that his malice was the underside of his love of sunshine and good people; his rage has as much excited life to it as his celebration of decency and loyalty.
Essay on Pip's Relationship with Magwitch in Great Expectations
Pip devises a plan to get Magwitch out of the country, but he's uneasy—and with good reason: just as they get ready to make their great escape, Estella goes and marries Pip's nemesis and Pip is almost thrown into a by a hometown bully who claims to know about Magwitch. And then the two are ratted out by Magwitch's nemesis Compeyson, who is, coincidentally, Miss Havisham's ex-lover. Magwitch is thrown in jail and dies, but not before Pip tells him the shocking truth: Estella is his daughter.
In any case, by my mid-twenties I had abandoned Dickens for Henry James, who was ever so much more worldly and intricate, and who had a finer, less melodramatic sense of evil (though there is always someone in James who is trying to gain control of your soul or your money or both). James left New York and Boston behind and set up in London and Rye; American civilization was insufficiently complicated for him, but Americans as individuals interested him a great deal. Dickens wrote nothing that meant as much to me and my friends as “The Portrait of a Lady,” with its high-minded, presumptuous, ambitious, and noble heroine, Isabel Archer.
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Great Expectations Character analysis of Magwitch and …
So much for the great romantic moment. “Great Expectations,” in which Pip longs so much for love and for decency, clarity, clean sheets, good food, fresh country air and sunshine, is filled with offal and awfulness.
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