Great Expectations Essay
Topic: Why is Great Expectations called Great Expectations?
There is an old cliché that cautions readers not to “judge a book by its cover”, but rather,
by its contents. While this piece of advice may indeed be true, one could ask if the same is true of
judging a book by its title. The title of a book is in many ways indicative, not only of its contents,
but perhaps more important, of its author’s message. A title serves to inspire the reader’s interest,
while at the same time, to convey its central theme. Charles Dickens’ decision to entitle, what has
become his most famous and celebrated work, Great Expectations, was a wise one, for it
continues to communicate the book’s powerful and relevant theme, over a century after it was
first published. The book’s title, Great Expectations, expresses the central theme of the novel,
which is that of its characters’ grand and often misguided expectations of what will deliver the
“happy life”. Through the book’s main characters, Dickens’ explores and portrays the struggle of
the individual to compose his own life, amidst powerful external social expectations. The novel
contrasts Pip’s expectations against the expectations of others, and demonstrates how happiness
will escape those who allow the expectations of others to control the course of their life.
Convinced that the wealth and aristocratic lifestyle of Miss Havisham is the only respectable way
to live, Pip sets out on a path to attain the unattainable and on a path that in essence, leads him
away from himself. It is only when he recognizes the mistake of his ways, when he returns home
after eleven years, to his humble beginnings, that he returns to himself and therefore is now able to
acquire the happiness that he had been misguidedly chasing after.
The story begins, with orphaned Pip living happily with his sister and her blacksmith
husband Joe. Pip looks up to Joe, who is a simple, honest, hard-working, and content man.
Destiny is about to change Pip, when he unknowingly helps a convict, Abel Magwitch. Magwitch
becomes the unnamed benefactor, who sends Pip away to be a gentleman. Suddenly, Pip’s
expectations change and he begins yearning for material things and Estella’s love. Estella is a
woman from the aristocracy, who Pip never would have aspired for when living with his sister and
Joe. As Biddy wisely tried to tell Pip, “I should think - but you know best that might be better and
more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should
think - but you know best - she was not worth gaining over. Exactly what I myself have thought,
many times. Exactly what was perfectly manifest to me at the moment. But how could I, a poor
dazed village lad avoid that wonderful inconsistency into which the best and wisest of men fall
every day?” (Page 129) Ironically, despite Pip’s new found material wealth, he is unhappy. It is