Each time that I read Great Expectations I'm left wondering whether or not Pip would have been happier if he had never been made the gift of "great expectations." More importantly, would he have been a better man if he had remained apprenticed to his blacksmith brother-in-law Joe rather than having been sent to London to be trained in the ways of a gentleman?
Great Expectations is a Dickens cautionary tale in which the author warns his readers of what can so easily happen to a person when given the opportunity to "better himself" by leaving his home, family and friends behind for education and fortune-seeking in the big city. As soon as word reached the local townspeople around whom Pip had spent his early years that a fortune was soon to be his, Pip found himself treated with respect and awe by the very people who had had little time for him in the past other than to chastise his behavior and relationship with the sister who was raising him "by hand." Their "boy" became "sir" overnight it seemed.
But sadly, after arriving in London and seeking to impress his new friends and colleagues, Pip decided that those who loved him most were an embarrassment to his future prospects and he only occasionally felt any guilt about his lack of contact with them. It is only when Pip's future prospects shockingly take a turn for the worse that he seeks the comfort of the family that he left behind.
Along the way, Dickens fills Great Expectations with some of the most memorable characters in British literature history. There are Miss Havisham, the spinster who never recovered from being jilted at the altar; Joe, the blacksmith and Pip's brother-in-law who never stopped loving Pip as a son no matter how much Pip neglected him over the years; Estella, the beautiful young woman whom Pip has loved since they were small children but who has been raised by Miss Havisham to give her heart to no man; Herbert, Pip's best London friend, a truly good man who both benefits from Pip's help and who eventually offers Pip a new future of his own; and, of course, Magwitch, the colorful escaped criminal whom Pip meets in the first pages of the book.
This is one of those books that I read every few years because re-reading it is like visiting an old friend after too long an absence. As the old memories come back, it's like I've never been away.
Rated at: 5.0