THE DREAM AND THE REAL
Dickens himself had risen to achieve greater expectations than any clerk's boy could expect, but he had not found happiness. The idea that one must search beyond material wealth and social standings and look within themselves for happiness becomes the major theme in Great Expectations. The character of Pip represented a Dickens who had learned some hard lessons in his later life. Especially strong throughout the novel are the concepts of fraternal and romantic love, how society thwarts them, how a man should find them. The story is a Bildungsroman -- a story that centres on the education or development of the protagonist -- and we can follow closely the things that Pip learns and then has to unlearn. Pip is marked by a dominant flaw like scrooge, but the flaw does not absorb the whole vitality of the character.
Dickens has Pip as the writer and first person narrator of this account of his life's experiences, and the entire story is understood to have been written as a retrospective, rather than as a present tense narrative or a diary or journal. Still, though Pip ‘knows’ how all the events in the story will turn out, he uses only very subtle foreshadowing so that we learn of events only when the Pip in the story does. Pip does, however, use the perspective of the bitter lessons he's learned to comment acidly on various actions and attitudes in his earlier life. His initial dreams result in disappointments that eventually lead him to become a genuinely good man. Dickens uses Pip's deterioration from an innocent boy into an arrogant gentleman and his redemption as a good-natured person to illustrate the idea that unrealistic hopes and expectations can lead to undesirable traits.
‘Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations.’ (Great Expectations, 18)
The story is divided into three phases of Pip's life expectations. The first ‘expectation’...