Understanding the Plot of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
What is defined as the “plot” of a novel can be explained and broken-down in very specific steps, although the actual content of the plot within novel has infinite variations and possibilities - Understanding the Plot of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens introduction. Plot regards the organization of the principle events of a work of fiction(Wikipedia). Plot is different from the storyline in that plot worries with how events are related, structured, and how they depict change in the major characters. The majority of plots will follow some process of change in which the main characters are caught up in a conflict that is eventually resolved.
The plot of a novel can be broken down in five parts: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (Wikipedia). The exposition usually occurs at the start of the story. Here is when the characters are first introduced and were we also learn about the setting of the story. Most importantly, we are first introduced to the main conflict of the story. Rising action is when the story begins to develop the conflicts, which in turn usually leads to the building of suspense or interest.
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The exposition and rising action are the two elements that build up the beginning of the story. The middle of the story is entirely devoted to climax. Climax is the turning point of the story, where the main characters usually come to face with a conflict which makes them in some way “change”. Falling action and resolution is what makes up the ending of the story. Falling action is the part of the story where all the loose ends of the plot are tied up and the conflicts and climax are taken care of. In conclusion, the resolution is when the story comes to a reasonable ending.
Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations is an excellent example of how a well developed plot, and many subplots hidden within the main, can create many twists and turns and make what may seem like a ‘fairy tale’ story a much more interesting and complex one. The protagonist of the navel is a seven year old boy named Pip. Dickens decides to tell the story through the eyes of Pip in the first person narrative, in a chronological and linear order. We know then, that as Pip tells takes us through his story he has already lived it. Pip’s plot within the novel can be very well summarized using the five elements explained previously.
At the start of the novel, the ‘exposition’, we are immediately introduced to some of the major characters such as Pip, Joe, and Abel Megwitch. We also learn that the story is initially set in the marsh country of Kent, somewhere close outside of London. Pip has been adopted by Joe and both share a beautiful and intimate relationship with each other. One day, as Pip was walking by the marshes he has an encounter with a convict by a graveyard close to the marshes.
Pip is spooked by this man that we later know to be named ‘Megwitch’, and a result helps him by steeling food from his sister Mrs. Joe, whom is a grumpy women with ‘temper problems’(Plot Analysis). When Pip finally decides to tell Joe what he has done he is shocked at his behavior. Consequently, Pip feels very guilty and is scared about the memory of the escaped convict. The conflict originates when Pip finally meets Estella, a little girl, orphan like him, but that is raised by a rich women named Mrs. Havisham (Dickens). One day, Pip is invited to go ‘play’ at the house of Mrs. Havisham and her niece Estella. When he arrives, he is ignored, made fun of, and treated awfully by the two women.
Despite Estella being very snobbish and treating him like garbage he falls deeply in love with her. She ridicules him in front of Mrs. Havisham by making fun of his ‘thick boots’ and ‘coarse hands’ (Dickens Chapter 8). Pip, all of a sudden, gets furious at Joe for not having raised him to be a more ‘gentle’ man. The complication embarks when out of the blue Pip becomes rich. Just when Pip had given up in becoming a gentleman and was training hard to become a blacksmith like Joe, he falls into fortune and is told that he has an anonymous benefactor that decided to make Pip into a gentleman.
Pip takes for granted that this anonymous benefactor is in fact Mrs. Havisham and that she has decided for him to move to London and start his training to become a gentleman and one day marry Estella. The only complication is that he has to leave Joe and his friend Biddy behind in the marshes. After little hesitation and a few tears, Pip moves to London and quickly apprehends that the big city is not so glamorous after all. As time passes he loses contact with Joe and Biddy and almost never sees them for a long period of time.
The complication and the climax collide when Pip surprisingly meets his anonymous benefactor on his twenty-third birthday(Dickens). He comes to shock when he sees that his benefactor is not Mrs. Havisham but Magwitch, the convict he helped when he was a child. This comes as devastating news for Pip. He realizes that Mrs. Havisham had actually no interest for Pip to become a gentleman and most importantly for him to marry Estella. All of the money that Pip had, came from a run-away convict which was sentenced to be killed in England. All of Pip’s dreams fall apart as he realizes that he can’t become a gentleman and cannot be a part of that ‘high class’ society because his fate was married to one of a criminal’s. Suspense comes when Pip receives an anonymous letter that says to meet him in the marshes. Pip instinctively thinks it is from Magwitch but when he arrives he is attacked and almost killed by a man named Orlick. The following day, Pip decides to help Megwitch escape because he fears that his life is in danger in England. Compayson, who is another escaped convict, successfully manages to stop this escape and gets Megwitch put in jail.
At this point, the falling action starts to take place within the plot. Estella marries a horrible man named Drummle. Magwitch is not killed, but eventually dies in jail from a sickness while he is visited by Pip. Pip consequently also becomes very sick and is helped and cured by Joe. After a while, Pip decides to go back to the marshes and ask Biddy, his old childhood friend, for marriage. He comes to find that Biddy is actually marrying Joe. Pip, devastated for all the failures and wrongs he has done in his life, begs for forgiveness from Joe and Biddy.
He then decides to leave England, and moves to Egypt for 11 years to work with Herbet, his ‘gentleman’ friend he lived with while he was in London. The resolution of the story comes after the eleven years Pip spends in Egypt. When goes back to the marshes he finds that Joe and Biddy have a little boy, and so that he has become an uncle. We see that Pip is a completely changed man and that days were he had ‘great expectations’ into becoming a gentleman and rising social class are far over. He also meets the now widowed Estella.
The two resolve their relationship and she asks for forgiveness from Pip. As we can see the level of detail put in the development of Pip’s plot in the novel is immense. It is import to understand that while we are taken through the story from Pip’s eyes, he already knows and has lived through all these events. Future Pip telling us the story deceives the readers into believing that he was living a ‘fairy tale’ kind of life and that everything for him was turning out for the good. However, Pip gives hints right from the start of the novel that some things might not be what they seem.
For instance, up until we reach the climax of the plot and we learn that Pip’s benefactor is in fact Megwitch, Pip’s first encounter with him in the graveyard when he was a kind seemed very irrelevant to the story line. Future Pip, on the other hand, knows how relevant that first encounter was and it is exactly why we are told this story on the first chapter on the novel. From then on, we constantly reminded of this ‘criminal’ presence in Pip’s life. Indeed, Pip has quite a few encounters with convicts as he grows up. He comes to find that the man who gave the money to Joe for his clothes was a convict.
Jaggers, the man hired by Magwitch to help Pip rise to the upper class in London, was also a very successful criminal lawyer. Pip knows that he was the only one that knew his benefactor’s real identity, but never really insists in finding out if it was really Mrs. Havisham. As we follow this story through Pip’s eyes, he gives no importance to these encounters with convicts, but instead lets us believe that these are all pure coincidences. Just as we come to find that Pip’s fortune comes from an escaped convict we also learn that Estella is in fact the daughter of Megwitch.
Our image of the perfect higher class snobbish girl quickly gets ripped apart, as we come to find that Pip’s and Estella’s lives are not so different after all. Dickens very neatly gives the plot a big twist after we find out whom Pip’s benefactor really is and that in the end his life and his great expectations have all come to a failure. He makes this also much more interesting by making the stories of the main characters connect to each other. Not incidentally, both Pip and Estella’s life do not turn out for the best. However, in the end both of them try to make for their wrong doing.
Estella realizes that she has been a horrible person, and to stop herself from breaking more man’s hearts she decides to sacrifice herself and marry a horrible person. Pip, after realizing how his great expectations managed to get the best of him, and how badly he had treated Joe and Biddy, he goes back to his old life and begs for forgiveness. Dickens in this case tries to give the reader a moral that in real life these ‘Cinderella’ stories do not exist. By making Magwitch so relevant to social uprising of Pip, Dickens is trying to say that in our real world we are more likely to have a Magwitch as our fairy godmother.
In essence, no one gives anything to you for free and everything comes with a price to pay. On the other hand, Dickens show that if people are happy with what they have got, and their expectations in life are more realistic and not based on greed, money, or power, things will more likely turn out for the good. This moral in the novel is shown by the stories of Joe, Biddy, and Herbert. Both Joe and Biddy were happy with their lives, their jobs, their social status, and their expectations were much less demanding that Pip’s.
They end up getting happily married and have a child. Herbert, who was one of the few ‘real’ gentleman In novel, had no expectations about his status in society. At a certain point, he was even helped by Pip because he had no money. Herbert’s had no great expectations in his life, the only thing he wanted to do was to marry the love of his life that was at a much lower social level than his. In the end of the novel he ends up marrying her and also ends up helping Pip by giving him a job in his company. As we can see, the plot has great affects on a novel.
Great Expectations, is an excellent example of this, because it has one of the most elaborated plots ever written. Not only does the plot make the story come together but it also makes the novel much more interesting to read and to follow. The complexity of the plot leads the reader to wanting to know more about Pip’s life and what happens around him. If, for instance, the story was told by future Pip, and not through the eyes of Pip living the moment, the whole plot would be muss less interesting for the readers because they would know, for example, all the connections between characters and their lives.
Dickens, Charles, and Graham Law. Great Expectations. Peterborough, Ont. [u. a. : Broadview, 1998. Print. Dickens, Charles, and Graham Law. “Volume 1 Chatper VIII. ” Great Expectations. Peterborough, Ont. [u. a. : Broadview, 1998. 89-100. Print. Dickens, Charles, and Graham Law. “Volume I Chapter IX. ” Great Expectations. Peterborough, Ont. [u. a. : Broadview, 1998. 100-07. Print. “Plot Analysis Great Expectations. ” Shmoop: Study Guides & Teacher Resources. Shmoop. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. . Wikipedia. “Plot (narrative). ” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 06 Oct. 2010. .