Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Number of pages: 495
Rating: 4 out of 5
Expectations are a dangerous thing. Held in check, they encourage us to achieve great things. Given free reign, they can cause destruction as great as any other folly: pride, greed, or jealousy. I was highly drawn to this book, not only because of it being a classic work of Dickens’, but because of the whole concept of expectations which consume his characters, and if I’m not careful, me.
The book opens in a graveyard; is that not a fitting setting for the imminent destruction we will soon see? Our young hero Pip suddenly meets a convict, who has escaped from prison and entreats Pip to bring him some food and a file. Which Pip promptly steals from his sister’s home where he lives. In helping the convict escape, he has no idea of the return he will find from that one act of kindness.
Unhappily living in his uptight sister’s home, with the exception of her husband, Joe, Pip believes his benefactress to be Miss Havisham. She is a woman who lives in Silas Manor, dressed in the very same rags which were once her wedding dress. Jilted at the altar, she has refused to step away from the expectations she held for her wedding day. She wears her wedding dress, holds her wedding shoe, has all the clocks stopped at twenty minutes to nine. Her wedding cake is covered in cobwebs, and her bitter heart keeps her from experiencing life any longer. In fact, she raises an adopted daughter, Estella, to be as bitter and vengeful as she herself has become.
When Pip is told that he has come into a huge inheritance, and may freely live in London, he flees his humble home with hardly a backward glance. Never mind that he has turned his back on Joe, the one true friend and man of character that he knows; he’s off to fulfill his expectations for a grander life than being an apprentice blacksmith to Joe can ever provide.
Assuming that his benefactress is Miss Havisham, he’s greatly surprised to find his financial endowment has come from the convict, Provis. He is also terribly saddened by the scorn with which Estella treats him, despite his love for her. It is not until the completion of the novel that he finally recognizes the scorn with which he himself has treated Joe.
This novel gives us a chance to examine the effects of expectations on characters we are lucky enough only to observe. But, perhaps more importantly, it gives us a chance to examine our own expectations. Hopefully, we can draw an appropriate balance between too few or too many before we suffer their consequences.
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