Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations'

It’s been a long time since I’ve read something considered a “classic”. And while there will always be an argument over what a “classic” text is (and I welcome it always of course), there will be texts that seem to pass across time and somehow impact the world of the reader. Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” is considered one such text.

Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day. p.72.

This part of the text introduces not just the thoughts of the reader and how one interaction; one moment in a life can shape so many others, but involves the reader in the story by addressing them. How often do texts do this these days? Pull you in by addressing you in a personal way?

This aspect is one quality I particularly enjoy. Another is the depth of description, language and character construction. It is rare to find such depth these days. This text is a close encounter of a human life and all his interactions, including his faults. What “Great Expectations” does, is really engage readers in a character’s psyche and motivations, so that you can really either love or hate a character. I never really liked Pip when reading this book and it’s because of his motivations, ideals and, well, expectations. Pip decides he can’t live as a blacksmith after playing at Ms. Havisham’s estate. Ms. Havisham is old and seemingly crazy as she spends her entire time in a wedding dress that is falling to pieces. But Ms. Havisham has a daughter Estella, with a heart of stone, who Pip falls in love with and his life depends on leaving behind the calls for apprenticeship to become an educated gentlemen with property and profits.

Not that Pip ever thinks that this can happen. He is poor, apprenticed as a blacksmith and the history of his childhood helping a convict escape (and the repercussions of that if anyone finds out) haunt him all the time. Reality is pushed aside for his dreams however; as an unknown benefactor gives him everything he desires to become a proper gentleman so he can woo Estella. But is it enough to stop the haunting of the convicts, the debts he increases, or the pride he holds to so dearly that he ignores his own family and his beginnings? No. And this text is about the juggle, the loss and the damage great expectations can have on an individual struggling to be a dreamlike version of themselves.

Everything in “Great Expectations” is well thought through in this text in order to make every character appear unique and have solid depth, as there is a grand variety of characters and moments within this text. I think this the flaw for though. There is so much depth and intricate language, and the themes themselves are so strong (having me considerably disliking the protagonist because of his shallowness, selfishness and ignorance no matter how much education he receives) that it could just be too much for some readers. Maybe the packaging is what keeps a reader at bay from a text like this when it is known as a “Penguin Classic”? But this shouldn’t deter you from any text, particularly this one. Sure the writing style is “old school” and the characters have so much depth it is like they are alive and breathing right next to you, but even for its difficulties this should be the reason you pick this book up. To know what it was like in London at that time: to feel the weather and the mood and the rats crawling through buildings and the shadows of men behind you at a play ... you feel like you are actually there. Another reason I think anyone should read this book.

Hearing the name “Dickens” always conjures up ideas of great writing (and he’s written plenty). This book is no exception as it isn’t something you read and forget, but deeply connect with and ponder over for some time in order to truly experience this text and all its intricate connections.

Give this text a chance and figure out just what it means to you.


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