Books · Lovely Things

Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” was very unexpected

A book would usually come to one’s life in this manner:

  1. It is displayed in a bookstore.
  2. Someone spots it and considers.
  3. It is taken off the shelf, bought, and brought home.

Great Expectations didn’t come to me that way. It was a normal day at work and one co-worker came with a big paper bag of pre-loved books. I had never bought pre-loved books before I knew her and through her, I was able to experience holding a book that was once held by another person’s hands. (Why did that sound a bit romantic? Haha!) It was a different experience sorting the old books which were marred by a dusty hint of brown and torn edges. Great Expectations said “Hello!” to me among the pile of books and what a surprise to be able to buy it at a very low price. It was less than a dollar! (And it came with this…)

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I wasn’t expecting so much from the book. I bought it because it was a time when I was more into classic novels more than anything else. Reading the title touched my curiosity. Why Great Expectations?

The Three Memorable Characters

Pip

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The main character is Pip and the story revolves around his life from his childhood to adulthood, from his humble beginnings to a time when he amassed wealth through an unknown benefactor, from his pitiful circumstances to his “great expectations”. It was a joy reading how he turned into the man he became to be and the way Charles Dickens wrote the story was memorable and creatively written. Pip was a perfect embodiment of an imperfect person; truly, an anti-hero. The surprising thing is that even if Pip is one whom readers would judge and even despise, I found him so easy to relate with and so real that I sympathized with him in many occasions even on instances when one would naturally judge him. Often, novels (and films/TV shows) paint us images of perfect people — just see how many superhero movies there are! Pip is far from them. The book was like a written account of all the misdeeds he had done. What amazes me is how much of a human the character is especially through his inner musings. I wonder if he can be considered more human than us.

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Estella

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She is the love interest of Pip, the opposite of him, the mirror that shows him all the more how desperate his life is and how any amount of wealth cannot erase the poor childhood he came from. She is cruel to him. Even her mere presence mocks him. She was brought up to be a beautiful woman with no intention but to break men’s hearts and Pip is the greatest receiver of this. Why? Because he loves her.

Estella has all the characteristics for me to hate her. The thing is, I don’t! I don’t hate her. I don’t hate her at all and it makes me wonder if there is something wrong with me, haha! I pondered on it for a while and arrived at the thought that it’s due to how Estella was raised by Miss Havisham that I don’t think ill of her. Behind Estella’s perfect and elegantly rude exterior is the fact that she is an orphan. Estella surely was not able to enjoy her childhood because she was shaped to be distant and rejective especially towards boys/men. She was to Miss Havisham, not an innocent child, but a tool to address her inner demons. Having this background only raises the fact that she was led to live an unhappy life, a life that is not at all different to Miss Havisham’s sorrow.

Miss Havisham + Joe = It’s a tie!

Two very different people. I cannot choose just one because they are both vital to the story and they have something similar: both took care of our young Pip and Estella.

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Miss Havisham is a character so distinct that she is hard to forget. I will always remember her as the woman who literally stopped the clock when she was betrayed by her love. I like the irony in her character being a woman who turned out to be this unlovable and unloving creature all because she gave a love so devoted to the wrong person. To me, she symbolizes our tendency to stay in the exact moment where our heart was crushed and never move forward. She has everything, especially wealth, but not the will to leave the past.

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Joe. I want to gift him chocolates; has has such a pure soul! In the story, he starts off as a father figure to Pip who is described with characteristics too far from impressive. He is a blacksmith and is married to Pip’s hot-tempered older sister. He lives a very simple, if not desperate life in and appears to lack education. Throughout the first part of the story, Pip expressed how pitiful he thinks of Joe especially when he thinks of him in comparison to his becoming a gentleman after learning about his upcoming wealth. The beautiful thing about Joe is that he never changed throughout the book. He was and still is the same loving and tender father figure to Pip whether Pip was that abused boy or the receiver of great wealth. At the end when Pip lost all that he gained, it was in Joe that he found his home.

It was a home that has always been there from the very start. 

The Memorable Lines

Charles Dickens is a highly skilled writer and I feel like I’m doing him no justice by saying those mere words. Writing about the life of a person has all its tendency to be unattractive. I mean, would I really care about a stranger’s life? Would I care about the childhood, love interest, failures, and expectations of somebody I don’t really know? Fictional characters come as strangers to us that when they are introduced, there is a need to portray them in the most charming way possible. Dickens painted Pip in a rather pitiful way: it starts with him explaining how he got the nickname “Pip” and how poor his life is. This poor life is then brought to different circumstances and we see how these take effect on Pip. The beautiful thing about this character is that even though his environment is one that is not similar to mine/ours due to generational gap, reading about him did not feel any distant at all.

Here are some of the most memorable lines from the novel.

On Wealth

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Wealth in this story acts as the embodiment of Pip’s expectations. We see Pip being the receiver of a large sum of money which transformed his life in an instant. He himself could not believe it. We also witness how this change in his life affected the people who surrounded him since he was a child and those who were bound to be with him when he became rich. Most especially, we see how wealth culminated within him a sense of loneliness and the guilt of having turned his back against where he came from. In the end, Pip realized the treasure that he has which is completely unattached to money: his relationship with people.

On Relationships

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As many of us have experienced, Pip in his life towards becoming a gentleman came along with a number of people who presented themselves all differently from each other. This richness in supporting characters played a crucial role in Pip to finally find in his heart that spot he had been ignoring all along for the sake of being a gentleman: that place where it all began, together with Joe.

On Love

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Pip’s love for Estella is one that he proclaimed desperate but had no will to be stopped by being disheartened. Pip’s heart took all the heavy blow of Estella’s rejection and yet, he still loved her.

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But that’s not the only love there is within the pages of Great Expectations, there is also the love that formed out of the strings of circumstance that binded Pip to his secret benefactor, Abel Magwitch. I personally love this quote because of the last part.

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Quick Final Thought

Many of  the books I read were pre-planned: I learned about the book, searched for its plot, looked for it in the bookstore, and bought it. At times, it would be disappointing because all that preparation is met by a story that actually is unsatisfactory. I probably expected too much. It’s wonderful to experience bumping onto a book I never had on my Reading List and eventually LOVING IT. It was a surprise, totally unexpected!

Here’s to more surprises that come in rectangular shapes that smell like century-old papers.

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