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Great Expectations is one of Charles Dickens' most famous works (along with A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities), as the multitude of high school students assigned this 300+ page book will attest. Ironically, it is his most unconventional work; Dickens deconstructed many of his trademark plots and characters in it, including the Mysterious Benefactor and Rags to Riches tale. The main character Pip is also far from the simple-minded innocents of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist and arguably has undergone the most Character Development as a result.
Pip starts the book as a guileless orphan who lives under the thumb of his shrewish older sister Mrs. Joe, only marginally mollified by her simple-minded but good-hearted husband Joe. His most eventful incident in his childhood is helping a convict on the marshes escape. But after being invited to play at the home of Miss Havisham, an eccentric spinster who's never recovered from being jilted at the altar long ago, and meeting her beautiful but haughty ward Estella there, Pip's mindset changes and he begins to resent his simplistic upbringing and the middling blacksmith career and life that seem inevitable for him.
Then, out of nowhere, Mr. Jaggers shows up at Pip's doorstep and tells his stunned family that he has "great expectations" bestowed upon him by a mysterious benefactor. Pip will spend the next couple of years training to become a proper gentleman. His benefactor's identity is a secret, but Pip is convinced that it is Miss Havisham. He meets the upper-class members of London society including friendly Herbert and loathsome Drummel, forgets about his old life, and courts Estella with limited success. But it is not until Pip finally discovers who his benefactor is that the plot really begins to thicken and Pip is forced to mature by confronting a variety of surprises, disappointments, and unexpected revelations.
Great Expectations has been subject to many a film adaptation. The two most likely to have been viewed in a high school English class are the 1946 David Lean one (generally regarded as the best) and the 1998 modern-day adaptation. There has also been a Completely Different South Park parody. A 2012 adaptation will feature Harry Potter veterans Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Jessie Cave, and Robbie Coltrane, as well as Jason Flemyng, David Walliams from Little Britain, and Ralph Ineson from The Office.
- Abusive Parents: Or, rather, abusive elder sister.
- All Love Is Unrequited
- Alone with the Psycho: Pip discovers his sister's attacker the hard way.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Wemmick's house in London, made out like a medieval castle, may seem like a bit of Dickens' whimsy, but in fact this was a common trend for victorian businessmen and the only unusual element is that Wemmick has done the work himself.
- Ambition Is Evil: Pip's infatuation with Estella. Because of her, he wants to be richer and have a better social status, causing him to become ashamed of his perfectly respectable origins, become ungrateful to his hard-working older sister who raised him (even if she was a bit of a bitch), and try to "improve" Joe, the nicest character in the book, so that he can meet Estella's standards.
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Pip to Estella. It has no effect on Estella, but does bring on Miss Havisham's one of the most literal and redundant cases ever of What Have I Done ("and again, ten, twenty, fifty times, what had she done?").
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Magwitch spends years trying to enrich Pip because Pip delivered food to him when he was on the run and starving.
- Big Bad: The deceptive and equally cruel Compeyson. He ruins Miss Havisham by pretending to love her, winning a lot of money from her (which was his goal the entire time) and then abandonding her before their supposed marriage, and he is also a dangerous criminal, but meets his ultimate doom when Magwitch drowns him.
- Big Damn Heroes: Herbert, Startop, and even Trabb's boy come to Pip's rescue in the last act.
- Big Fancy House: Subverted. Satis House used to be one of these.
- Book Dumb: Joe Gargery.
- Break the Cutie: Compeyson did this to Miss Havisham, who does the same with Estella.
- Break the Haughty: Both Pip and Estella.
- Broken Bird: Estella, either when she lashes out at Miss Havisham or by the ending, when she's had to live with an abusive husband.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Wemmick is the no-nonsense assistant of Jaggers who spends time with his father ("The Aged Parent") at a whimsical, out-of-the-way cottage in his spare time.
- Changeling Fantasy: Subverted -- Pip gains a mysterious, wealthy benefactor and believes that it is Miss Havisham's plan to pair him up with Estella, the woman he loves, but it turns out that his actual benefactor is the escaped convict he helped at the beginning of the story -- Miss Havisham had nothing to do with it.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The escaped convict.
- Contrived Coincidence: Dickens is famous for having a disproportionate number of characters find out that they're related to each other or met previously, and Great Expectations is no exception: Pip meets the convict more than once, Jaggers serves as the lawyer of at least three key characters, both of the escaped convicts turn out to be entwined in the other character's stories, and Estella's parents are both sprinkled throughout the cast.
- Deleted Scene: Modern printings of the novel usually include the original ending as an appendix.
- Disney Villain Death: Subverted with Compeyson, who meets his end when he falls into a river and drowns after Magwitch attacks him.
- Does Not Like Men: The greatest understatement of all time concerning this trope and Miss Havisham.
- Emotionless Girl: Estella states at more than one point that she has no heart and has never been taught how to love.
- Extremely Dusty Home
- Face Death with Dignity: Magwitch.
- Femme Fatale: Estella was bred to become this by Miss Havisham.
- Foil: Joe and Orlick, Biddy and Estella
- Foreshadowing: Pip has brief visions of Miss Havisham's death.
- Genre Busting
- Gone Horribly Right: Ms. Havisham's attempt to make Estella devoid of all natural feeling. She succeeds.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The scenes detailing Pip's childhood (being "brought up by hand" by his volatile sister) are treated comically in his narration, probably because he's laughing at it all in retrospect.
- I Coulda Been a Contender: Subverted--Pip learns to resign himself to being, at best, a mildly successful businessman.
- I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Even after he learns he was never meant for Estella, Pip still begs her to reject the abusive Drummle and marry someone who will be kind to her.
- I Would Say If I Could Say: Jaggers is fond of this.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Pip and Joe, his sister's husband.
- Jerkass: Estella, Drummle, Miss Havisham, Pip's Sister, Pumblechook, sometimes Jaggers, and, once he becomes a gentleman, Pip.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jaggers is unpleasant to be around and is certainly a grey-morality type of guy, but reveals Hidden Depths by the end.
- Just Between You and Me: Orlick confesses to attacking Mrs. Joe and spying on Pip.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: The Pockets have been producing children at a rate that far outstrips Mr. Pocket's desire for them (or, for that matter, Mrs. Pocket's interest in them).
- Lonely At the Top: Pip becomes a wealthy gentleman, abandoning his poor but decent friends back home and becoming as shallow as the Rich Bitches he's surrounded with to do so. And he doesn't even get the girl. (He only gets her in the revised ending when he switches from his extravagant life to a more frugal one.)
- That switch back to his roots was part of the story already. Only the very ending was changed at the last minute.
- Love Makes You Evil. Not so with anyone but Miss Havisham, so maybe it's more of a Freudian Excuse for her madness and obsessiveness.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: Magwitch, a convict on the run, is revealed to be not just Estella's father, but also Pip's mysterious benefactor.
- Man On Fire: Miss Havisham's death.
- May-December Romance: Joe and Biddy marry, long after the death of Mrs. Joe.
- Maybe Ever After: In the revised ending, not the original.
- Meaningful Name: Satis (Enough) House.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Miss Havisham's lament when she realizes how she's warped Estella's ability to feel.
- Mysterious Benefactor: One of the most well known cases in literature.
- Oblivious to Love: Right at the start, though he realises it later. For goodness' sake, Pip, she's right there!
- One Degree of Separation: Not only is Magwitch Estella's father, Compeyson, who was on the run with Magwitch, was Miss Havisham's former lover.
- Put on a Bus: After Pip is apprenticed to Joe, Estella goes off to study abroad.
- Rags to Riches
- Runaway Groom: Her fiance dumped Miss Havisham at the altar, as she was dressing for the ceremony.
- Revised Ending: To avoid the book having a Bitter Sweet / Downer Ending. Dickens' friend and colleague Edward Bulwer-Lytton, after getting a sneak preview of the original ending, suggested an ending that wasn't so downbeat. Dickens himself seemed content with the result.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Magwitch's illegal return from Australia, which prompts Pip to have a Screw the Money, I Have Rules epiphany.
- Setting Update: The 1998 movie.
- Stopped Clock: Miss Havisham has all the clocks in her house stopped at twenty minutes to nine -- the moment she learned she had been jilted on her wedding day.
- Title Drop: When Jaggers informs Pip of his Mysterious Benefactor.
Jaggers: The communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations.
- Took a Level In Jerkass: Pip, due to his exposure to Miss Havisham and Estella.
- Twice-Told Tale: Peter Carey's Jack Maggs (which also qualifies as a Start of Darkness).
- Unexpected Inheritance
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Biddy