“Great Expectations” serves as one of the noblest forms of social critique: that of one that gives examples of what it means to improve. Dickens uses his writings to comment upon the societal expectations of the day. Pip possesses the greatest expectations: that for himself. He desires to become this lofty gentleman and Dickens uses this to satirically critique the normal way of thinking of the time.
Pip desires an education and wealth so that he can move forward in society, and yet he realizes whenever he receives these gifts that he is no better off than what he was previously. One of the overall themes of this work is the concept that you can receive happiness at whatever level that you are currently at. You don’t have to be the wealthiest or most intelligent person on Earth–those are things that can alienate you even more from the people you care about.
Overall, the Victorian era shifted in its focus from a society reliant upon a Romanticized view of God and providence, to that of hard-work and almost a Darwinian determinism. It is very difficult to rise above one’s circumstances. As we see in the novel, Pip tries to do so and whenever he “succeeds”, he feels ghastly for treating his friends and family members in such an abominable way.
In a slightly related note, this past week was also Charles Dickens’ two hundredth birthday.
I wonder if he expected the notoriety that he received.