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Dickens' Great Expectations: Theme Analysis

2901 words - 12 pages

Fiction performs a number of functions, and among these are helping us to understand the world, and helping us to understand the human condition. What is taken from a work of fiction is, however, dependant on who is reading it at the time. In the case of Great Expectations there are a number of themes running through the text including betterment through education, what it is to be a gentleman, respectability and crime, parental /family ties, and industry and idleness. Many of the original readers of the work were not concerned with analysing these various themes, and how Dickens put the work together. Rather, it was enjoyed as a populist piece of fiction which simply told the story of a young orphan from humble beginnings who rises to become a wealthy gentleman. Critical analysis of the text, both contemporaneously and retrospectively, reveal additional depths of the novel. For the purpose of this assignment I will discuss the autobiographical elements of the novel, the influence of Dickens life on the characters and narrative in the novel, and some of the themes running through the novel, which will illustrate how Great Expectations allows us to look inward to understand ourselves. Dickens also makes a number of points about the world in this work, with particular attention paid to childhood, religion, education and the role of women in Victorian society. The type of novel, a bildungsroman, can also tell us about the world at the time Great Expectations was written.

Great Expectations, in serial form, is a novel that was printed in weekly instalments in Dickens's magazine, All The Year Round. The nineteenth-century serial was a continuing story with each instalment, written so the interruptions do not seem like drastic cut-offs from the story. Each instalment seems to end one part of the story while still keeping the reader guessing and waiting for the next instalment to pick up where the last one left off. As a working writer, Dickens had to remain populist. As he was writing in the first age of mass culture, Dickens was aware of the changed nature of art, and of his sense of himself as a mass cultural artist. Juliet John contends that “Dickens combined the instincts of a media mogul with the abilities of a great writer" (John, 2011:50).

Elements of Dickens' childhood are repeatedly evident throughout Great Expectations. In Creating Characters With Charles Dickens Doris Alexander stated that “Dickens knew that early circumstances shape character and that character, in turn, shapes reactions to later circumstances". From the start, Dickens had no doubt that Great Expectations would be autobiographical, and he re-read David Copperfield to avoid repetition (Kaplan, 1998:432). The novel is initially set in Kent and then moves to London, much like Dickens did himself. The circumstances that young Pip experiences are also quite similar to those Dickens suffered at the same age. When Pip first visits Satis House he feels that “I was a...

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