Studiu de specialitate – The Search for Identity in Charles Dickens’s „Great Expectations”


Autor: prof. Teiuşanu Cristina
Liceul Teoretic Ioan Petruş, Otopeni

Dickens’s work is complex and his novels are history and fiction at the same time, a picture and symbol of the age. Charles Dickens’s early experiences were deeply imprinted upon his conscience and affected him to such an extent that in interpreting his novels, one must take them into account for whatever they might signify. The London of Dickens’ imagination, the London recreated and described in his major novels, is essentially the London of the 1820, the scene of his childhood and early manhood. Dickens’s best written novel, a triumph of psychological development, is Great Expectations.
The shaping of identity as conceived by Charles Dickens concerns the physical, psychological and spiritual evolution of the protagonist from early childhood to adulthood and his/her relationship with parents, relatives, and friends. The hero of Great Expectations is socially free, because he is an orphan and strives hard to become a gentleman, the ultimate goal of a middle class Victorian young man; eventually, he realizes that he has become a snob instead.
However, Dickens’s aim is eventually to demonstrate the belief in Man, in his fundamental purity and humanism, the belief in the final triumph of good against evil, which iterates the mythical or biblical clash between them.
The Victorian novel is the meeting place of the beginnings when one was aware of a mixture of preceding literary forms and devices rather than of a well-constituted genre, and the novel as an art form, as it emerged in the first decades of the twentieth century. (Galea, Ileana, Victorianism and Literature. Cluj-Napoca: Editura Dacia, ,P. 56-60)
“Great Expectations” (1861-1861) is penance by the mature, now clear- seeing Dickens for his earlier subservience to false values, his hatred for the job at the shoe-blacking factory, his desperate lower – middle- class passion to rise to gentleman’s status. More broadly, the work condemns the entire leisure- class ideal of contemporary society. Pip’s gentility is pure parasitism, and his return to useful occupation is expiation for trying to live by the labour of others.
“Great Expectations” is a story of excitement and danger, adventure and murder, but most of all of self-discovery as Pip painfully rethinks the values on which he has built his life”. (Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Edinburgh Gate: Penguin Readers, P. VII) In this novel, Charles Dickens depicts a young man’s search for identity, and this is the main reason that stands behind the novel’s being considered a novel of education (bildungsroman). From the point of view of the character’s evolution, the novel is divided into three distinct “stages”, each labelled as a specific “stage of Pip’s identity”. In a chronological order, these “stages” trace Pip’s progress from industrious obscurity as a child through wilful idleness as an adolescent and young adult, to a resigned and modest acceptance of his true place in society.
Pip’s great “stages” are a dramatized exploration of human growth and the pressure that distorts the potential of an ordinary individual, especially in the process of growing up. Pip is a simple blacksmith’s boy who aspires to cross social boundaries when he realizes his own upbringing is common; however, he has no means to change. He learns that happiness in life can be achieved only by hard work and that great expectations not grounded in reality can only lead to tragedy and heartache. (FRAGMENT)

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