Great Expectations is a novel published in 1861 by Charles Dickens. The protagonist and narrator of the novel goes by the name of ‘Pip’. Pip is a young 8 year old boy who strives to be educated to impress the girl he loves, Estella. Rated as a middle class boy life becomes a struggle for young Pip while meeting the wild range of characters which Charles Dickens creates. The story is told by Pip himself in an advanced manner telling us from the beginning that Pip achieves his goal to become a ‘Gentleman’.
We realise that the novel is a Bildungsroman since it has all the ingredients for it: Desire, poor social conditions, love, education, ancestry and although the book was written by Charles Dickens it is expressed through the eyes of Pip. We approach Pip in the start next to his mother and fathers graves at the church. At this time Pip begins to discover the world and his interpretation of his mother and father are realised from the handwriting on their tombstones, poor Pip thinks his mothers name is ‘Also Georgiana’.
In the beginning we realise that Pip has a weak character and we pity him. At this point in the novel Pip is very young and is about to choose his path in life although his weak personality does not help him. Pip is approached by an escaped convict in an aggressive manner giving no attention to those he endangers while he hunts for food; Pip is later haunted by the memory of this convict who twists, throws and grinds at him. In the novel Pip tells us what his thoughts were at the time and we realise that Pip has an extraordinary imagination and his mind is open to anything.
At this time in the novel Pip is comfortable with his home, there is a friendly environment (when Mrs Joe isn’t there). His only relative who ‘brought him up by hand’ was feared by her husband, by her brother and has argued with nearly everyone in town, her name is Mrs Joe. The hierarchy in Pip’s home is unusual as the lady rules the house as Mrs Joe does what she likes to her husband, Pip’s only family is quite humorous. The setting in chapters 1 and 2 informs us how the story is a bildungsroman, usually the beginning is to do with a poor family living in poor social conditions struggling through life.
In a classic bildungsroman there is a loss at the start, in this case Pip’s parents. Also, in a bildungsroman we see every step of the protagonist as he matures without his parents, adding to the effect. In chapter 3 Charles Dickens shows us how Pip is feeling through the atmosphere created by the setting. The repetition of ‘damp’ suggests that Pip is scared and adding to that feeling he begins believe that there are ‘goblins crying at his window’. Every gate and fence he passes is ‘wet’ and ‘clammy’ which implies he is scared.
Pip has been driven to shiver all night long from the thought of his ‘heart and liver being torn out’. The convict affects Pips future personality as his sister is left unconscious by a blow on her head leaving the file which he gave to ‘his convict’ as the only evidence on site. Since Pip is guilty of stealing, the roaring weather does not help him, ‘spider webs’ are spun to trap him. Pip sees two ways in life, a ‘gibbet’ and a ‘beacon’; this symbolises the good or bad path he can choose to take.
Pip sees himself hung on the ‘gibbet’ showing us that Pip, at that moment is going towards that and wants to avoid it. We can only imagine the fright that has developed in this poor young boy. At first sight of Estella Pip is struck by love although Estella immediately attacks him with powerful words which Pip finds ‘insulting’. Pip realises that the mansion he is in and all who live in it are rich and do not need to lift a finger. You wouldn’t need to eat in a kitchen or cook your food; you would have it made for you, brought to you and could even choose to be spoon fed.
Later Pip begins to find his house very irritating and not suitable for the likes of Miss Havisham and Estella as it has the design of a middle class lifestyle and Pip does not consider his status is middle class and deserves better. Pip begins to believe how his family are not worthy of him and need to be ‘educated’ to be in his presence. As Pip is the narrator of his own story, he could be telling us the story from a biased point of view, he begins to make us sympathetic towards him.
When he visits Sati’s house he shows us terror, fascination, amazement and he is surprised by all the clocks fixed at 8:40, and how everything was so still. Pip’s desire to have what he likes has been planted inside him just adds to the bildungsroman effect. Pip at this time in the novel becomes very big headed. Dickens highlights Pip’s dissatisfaction with himself through Biddy who is a respectable girl and shares her knowledge with Pip; Pip returns the favour by opening up to her. We realise that Pip wants to be a gentleman to impress Estella, although Estella openly shows that she doesn’t care for him through insults.
Pip tells Biddy that they would have been the perfect couple and we realise that Pip cannot imagine them together as he has fallen under the spell of Estella. Pip treats everyone around him badly since he believes they are not worthy enough to be in his presence. Pip regrets his attitude towards people and his attitude towards his home, ‘It is a most miserable thing to be ashamed of home’ and ‘my ungracious conditions’ both prove Pip regrets his actions and tells us how Pip has matured at the end of the story, slowly showing us Pip’s development.
In chapter 10 and before education in the Victorian era is revealed to us. Pip’s teacher (Mr Wopsles great aunt) likes to get her beauty sleep while the children she is supposedly teaching riot. Pip’s struggle to be educated is explained, Biddy, being the only wise one in the class helps Pip through this struggle by teaching him and she becomes a loyal friend to Pip. Dickens uses Biddy as a tool to tell us how Pip is feeling at different times in the novel so we can see development. Pip evolves from the young, frightened orphan at the start of the novel into an educated, brave and independent gentleman at the end.
Pip meets a huge range of caricatures which Dickens creates to reveal every step and change as Pip progress’s, we watch every step as he matures. Great expectations is a bildungsroman assuring us that we understand every aspect of Pip’s life as he matures. I believe Dickens has attempted to improve education through this novel and has achieved it, all potential should be recognised. Dickens has managed to create a wonderful character that goes through many different events and at the end his protagonist is a respected, educated ‘gentleman’.