Great Expectations: Themes of Love, Redemption and Isolation
By Anne Gilmour
Of the major themes from Charles Dickens 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 manoeuvre to turn the child into a
haughty, heartless instrument of revenge against men. Estella is encouraged to
practice her disdain on 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 Pips 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 to 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, that 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 realise, 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 honour 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 recognised 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,
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 and involve love and redemption.