Great Expectations Essay Questions And Answers

The third season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group has now come to a close, but the fun isn’t over yet. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst will be answering your Dickens questions LIVE on Twitter on Friday 25th September at 3pm GMT (11am EST). Tweet your questions to @owc_oxford with the #OWCReads hashtag and Robert will answer them on Friday.

We’re just over a fortnight away from the end of our third season of the Oxford World’s Classics Reading Group. It’s still not too late to join us as we follow the story of young Pip and his great expectations. If you’re already stuck in with #OWCReads, these discussion questions will help you get the most out of the text. They come courtesy of the co-editor of the OWC edition of Great Expectations, Professor Robert Douglas-Fairhurst of Madgalen College, Oxford.

  1. Why do you think Dickens revised the ending to his novel? Which version to you prefer?”
  2.  Much of Great Expectations revolves around money, especially what it can and cannot buy. Are there any values other than economic ones in the novel?
  3. The narrator we hear is simultaneously the younger Pip who is experiencing the events and the older Pip who is remembering them. How do these two voices work alongside (or against) each other?
  4. In David Copperfield, Dickens tells us that ‘trifles make the sum of life’. Which parts of Great Expectations are most important? How successfully do individual details fit into the novel as a whole?
  5. At one point Pip refers to events coming to life in his memory ‘like a stain that was faded but not gone’. Is there any escape from the past in Great Expectations?
  6. Dickens’s notes for his earlier novel The Old Curiosity Shop included the reminder to ‘Keep the child in view’. How successfully does Great Expectations capture the way a child thinks and feels?
  7. After Pip first meets Estella, he enjoys thinking of himself as the hero of a fairy tale who will rescue her from Satis House. But as he discovers later, he is living out a different kind of plot. How many different stories are working alongside each other in the novel? Is it a comedy? A tragedy? A romance? Something else?
  8. Great Expectations originally appeared in weekly instalments. What effect does it have on the story if you can only read one small portion of it at a time?
  9. Dickens’s novel has often been adapted for the screen. What are some of the problems that a screenwriter or director would face in turning Great Expectations into a film or television mini-series?
  10. Dickens often played around with different titles before he chose the one he eventually printed on the first page. If you had to choose another title for Great Expectations, what would it be?

Don’t forget, you can follow along, and join in the conversation by following us on Twitter and Facebook, and by using the hashtag #OWCreads.

Featured image: Victorian living room by VinnyCiro. CC0 via Pixabay.

Great Expectations (Dickens)

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Discussion Questions
1. In this novel, Great Expectations, things are often not what they seem. Discuss how the theme of "expectations" is illustrated by and through the various major characters in this book. How are Pip's expectations different and similar from those of his surrogate father, Joe (the blacksmith), Miss Havisham (the eccentric recluse), Estella (the daughter of a convict and murderess) and Pip's benefactor, (the convict) Magwitch?

2. Why do you think it is one of Magwitch's principal conditions that Pip (his nickname) "always bear the name of Pip" in order to receive his financial support?

3. If Pip had not received his "Great Expectations" and never left Joe's forge, how do you think his life would have been different? Are the lessons he learns during his physical and emotional journey necessary for him to arrive at the wisdom he evinces as the middle-aged narrator of this tale? In what ways?

4. Why do you think Miss Havisham manipulates and misleads Pip into thinking she is his secret benefactor? What, if anything, does she derive from this action?

5. Given Dickens's portrayal of Estella, what do you think attracts Pip to her in the first place and what, when he learns of her cold-blooded manipulation of men such as her husband, keeps Pip devoted to her until the end, loving her, as he says, "against reason, against promise, against peace?"

6. In the final chapter Estella says to Pip: "Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching." Discuss the theme of suffering in this book—specifically how it instructs Pip, Miss Havisham and Estella.

7. In Chapter 49 Miss Havisham confesses to Pip that in adopting Estella, she "meant to save her (Estella) from misery like my own." Do you believe this, given Dickens's harsh characterization of Miss Havisham throughout the novel?

8. in the same Chapter (49) when Miss Havisham is set afire, do you believe that, given her state of mind, Dickens intends us to read this as an accident or a kind of penance/attempted suicide on her part for her cruelty to Pip and Estella?

What do you think makes Pip change his opinion of his benefactor Magwitch from one of initial repugnance to one of deep and abiding respect and love?

9. In Chapter 59, when Pip places Joe and Biddy's son (also named Pip) on the same tombstone that opens the novel, what do you think Dickens intends to tell us with this image? Given the novel's theme of how the sins of others are visited upon us, do you view this image as a foreboding one in any way?
(Questions issued by Penguin Classics; image, top right.)

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