Of the major themes from Charles Dicken’s novel “Great Expectations” to be discussed as to their importance concerning its structure, I have selected “Love” in the context of human relationships, “Isolation” and finally “Redemption”.
The loneliness isolation brings can only be redeemed by the loving associate of our fellow man, this is a two-way thing. “Had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their maker.” In isolation, the greatest sin we commit against ourselves and others is to shun human companionship as Miss Haversham did.
After her betrayal in love, she hardened her heart towards her fellow man. By hardening her heart and suppressing her naturally affectionate nature, she committed a crime against herself. Miss Havershams love for Compeyson is of a compassionate kind, this blinded her to his true nature, as Herbert remarked, “too haughty and too much in love to be advised by anyone.”
At Compeysons desertion her anger and sorrow became extreme and she threw herself and Satis House into perpetual mourning and a monument to her broken heart, shutting the world out and herself from the world.
Her only concession is in her adoption of Estella. Miss Haversham has ulterior motives in adopting Estella, this is not a loving action on her part, but a calculated maneuver to turn the child into a haughty, heartless instrument of revenge against men. Estella is encouraged to practice her disdain for Pip and to break his heart. Paradoxically, Miss Havershams greatest sin is against herself.
By hardening her heart she loses her generous, affectionate nature and becomes withered inside emotionally. Her punishment is that the heartless young woman she has made uses her lack of feelings against Miss Haversham.
Estella herself is isolated, as for most of the novel she takes pleasure in her role of avenger. Her isolation is in part responsible for Pip’s snobbery and his estrangement from Joe and Biddy. Like Miss Haversham she becomes a victim of her own machinations. She enters into a loveless marriage to Drummle, who is cruel to her. This shows that no matter how heartless one tries to be, there is always someone more heartless.
The instrument of revenge punishes the avenger and is punished in return. Pip feels emotionally and geographically isolated on his arrival in London. Jaggers isolation is his deliberate rejection of human involvement, he substitutes these with the mechanical process of law. Jaggers uses the legal system to avoid personal responsibility for the fate of his fellow man.
This profession has imprisoned his better instincts, leaving him isolated within the system. Magwitch, however, is isolated by the system; he uses Pip as his agent of revenge. Magwitchs’ motives are not only revenge but also gratitude for the food Pip gave him in his hour of need. He develops a fatherly affection towards Pip, who in the end returns his affection. It is Magwitch who has the best reasons for disbelieving in human companionship, which supported it the most. Love in the context of human relationships is best shown through Pip.
The relationship between Pip and Joe changed as Pip grew up. As a child, Pip regarded Joe as an equal, though he loved him, “I had a new sensation of feeling conscious that I was looking up to Joe in my heart.” Though there is love, the snobbish Pip is critical of Joe, not verbally, but in his thoughts.
When Pip attains his “Great Expectations,” he is embarrassed by what he regards as Joe’s commonness and avoids his company. Pip’s conscience makes him realize, Joe has more gentlemanly qualities than he himself possesses; his remorse however is short-lived. When Pip’s fortunes take a fall he is too ashamed to approach Joe and Biddy, their love is too strong, however, and are there for Pip in his hour of need. In Pip’s relationship with Biddy, he is very condescending, and shows disregard for her feelings, “If I could only get myself to fall in love with you,” is a prime example.
Pip compares Biddy to Estella and overlooks her obviously good qualities. After his loss of fortune, Pip decides to honor Biddy by marrying her. “I would go to Biddy.” Pip still snobbishly thought Biddy would be glad to marry him. However, Biddy has married Joe. Though she was once half in love with Pip, Biddy recognized his obsession for Estella and wisely sought a partner elsewhere.
Biddy and Joe share the same values and are ideal partners. Herbert and Clara, Mr. Wemmick and Miss Skiffin, and Mr. and Mrs. Pocket have loving steady relationships. Pip’s sexual attraction towards Estella is more romantic ideology than genuine love. He envisions Estella as a captive princess and himself as the heroic knight, only he can awaken love in her heart.
Even though Estella tells him, “I have no heart”, he does not believe her. Does Estella believe what she says or is she trying to convince herself? Is she using her unattainability to perversely keep Pip’s interest?
Redemption is attained by Miss Haversham when she humbles herself to ask Pip’s forgiveness. After the cruelty she has endured at the hands of Compeyson, Estella emerges a more compassionate person. Pip’s forgiveness and love from Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch. He endures hardship and triumphantly emerges a mature, thoughtful person.
The themes of Love, Isolation, and Redemption are the structure the other themes hang from. The loneliness of isolation is the beginning; love is the food that staves it off and redemption is the final cleansing. Love is the backbone of the novel, the thing that binds the others together, redemption is its conclusion.
There has to be love or the characters would not be able to interact, if there were only isolation each character’s tale would be a separate piece of work. All good novels have a moral to relate to and involve love and redemption.