Justification for Teaching

One of Dickens's most widely read and beloved novels, Great Expectations, is considered a classic for many reasons. The themes and discussion topics are plentiful, and students will love and hate the complex characters at the same time. Furthermore, the novel actually has two available endings, depending on which version is read —the one with the more melancholy original ending, or the revision with a happier conclusion. These juxtaposing endings provide educators with the opportunity to compare the two finales: Which one is more realistic? Which best aligns with the rest of the novel and supports Dickins's main points about personal growth?

As the book depicts a boy's coming of age, students will be able to relate to the main character, root for his dreams, and empathize with his shortcomings. The reader witnesses Pip, the novel's protagonist, falling in love, feeling betrayal, and both gaining and losing fortune, all experiences that are universal to human nature and especially impactful in adolescence. Students will undoubtedly connect to Pip's journey and appreciate the depth in which Dickins delves into the struggle to not only achieve a dream, but to keep it alive.

Summary

Great Expectations follows Pip, a poor orphan living with his sister and his brother-in-law in the English marshes, until he becomes an adult living in London. As a child, he falls in love with the cold Estella, the beautiful adopted daughter of his rich neighbor, Miss Havisham. These feelings launch his desire to become a "gentleman," a dream that eventually comes to fruition once he receives funds from a mysterious benefactor. However, Pip learns many important lessons and faces consequences after his great expectations are achieved.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Alternate Ending
  • Dark Humor
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

  • Social Class — Pip's journey conveys to the reader that social status is not connected to one's true character and that wealth and class are less important than inner worth.
  • Ambition — As its title indicates, Great Expectations emphasizes the possibility of advancement in life and what happens when one is fervently dedicated to such a task.
  • Crime —  The novel introduces so many criminals that it raises this question: Are people born malevolent, or do they turn to crime as a result of misfortune and their upbringing?

Related Works

Theme of Social Class

 

Theme of Ambition

 

Theme of Crime

Key Facts

  • Length: 472 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 1230
  • Publication Date: 1861
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12

Movies

There have been numerous film adaptations of Great Expectations, but the most popular one is the 1946 version starring John Mills and Jean Simmons, which won two Academy Awards. The movie is a shortened version of the book, but still follows it closely.

Your students will love:

  • Following along with Pip's life story.
  • The vibrant characters.

Students may have problems with:

  • Following the Victorian language.
  • The gloomy original ending.

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.