I first read Charles Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’ when I was attending Parktown Boys’ High School in Johannesburg, and I recall I enjoyed it then, just as much as I’ve enjoyed re-reading it now. Dickens is a very good story teller. He engages the reader with his rich characters, almost all of which develop during the story and start out as something else and gradually, with the experiences of life, change and acquire wisdom; which makes the name of the novel all the more applicable on multilayers, since the expectations of its main characters are not met precisely as they had planned initially.
With regards to our protagonist, Pip, we enter his life when he is a young boy apprenticed at the forge. An unexpected event in his life draws the attentions of a benefactor and young Pip is sent to London to become a gentleman. We see how as a young boy Pip reveals character flaws by shunning his friends at home, most notably Joe, who loves him dearly, but who Pip feels, as a man working the forge, is beneath him. Pip is under the delusion that his benefactor is Miss Havisham, a lady that was dealt with cruelly on her wedding day and abandoned.
Pip falls in love with Estella, a young girl adopted by Miss Havisham, and whom the older woman ensures grows up with a frosty heart—Miss Havisham’s way of taking retribution on the male gender for all the heartbreak she has suffered.
Dickens gradually reveals his plot which runs on multiple streams. On the one hand, he reveals who Pip’s benefactor is, on the other, he reveals Estella’s background and how she is tied with the rest of the characters who meet Pip, and who surround him without him being aware at first of their true identity and life stories. Eventually, Pip’s life makes a full circle and he comes to appreciate who his real friends are, how valuable Joe’s friendship is, and Dickens closes his novel with a promise of a brighter future with possibilities, and characters mature enough to perhaps grab them.