Ideas for Analyzing Great Expectations

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 16, 2000

Questions for Further Investigation and Analysis

1. Considering the fact that the book was written in serial installments, what techniques does Dickens use to create interest or suspense at the end of each installment?

2. Which characters are "good," which are "evil," and which are mixtures (and to what degree)? Which characters appear to be either good or evil but underneath are the opposite?

3. Examine the theme of guilt. Who is guilty? How does it affect behavior? Is everyone in the novel guilty of something? Are there different kinds of guilt? What means do the characters use to expiate their guilt? Are these means successful?

4. Consider Aristotle's three kinds of friendship from the Nicomachean Ethics: the friendship based on pleasure, that based on usefulness, and that based on mutual goodness or virtue. What kinds of friendship do you find in Great Expectations? If the friendship based on mutual goodness is the only genuine or lasting kind, are there any real friends in the book?

5.Compare the characters of Abel Magwitch and the creature from Frankenstein.

6. Discuss the many false appearances, facades, deceptions, wrong assumptions permitted to continue. What is the significance of this pervasive pretending? Is anyone in the novel genuine?

7. What kinds of symbols or metaphors do you see in the book? How do they function?

Ideas for Computer Analysis

1. Search for terms related to the mood of darkness. How does this mood figure in the events of the book? How common is it? Words to include in your search would be black, dark, desolate, darkness, bleak, leaden, darkly, dismal, gloomy, dirty, darken, darkening, blackness, gloom. Be sure to look for others as you read the book.

2. Search for terms related to the mood of unhappiness. Note which characters and events the mood surrounds or is connected with. Words to search for might include dejected, melancholy, miserable, misery, sad, sadness, sorrow, sorrowful, unhappy and others.

3. Connected with unhappiness is the act of crying. You may wish to search on this act either in connection with or separately from that of unhappiness. Words to include might be tears, cry, crying, cried, sob, sobs, sobbing, sobbed, and so on.

4. Wetness is an interesting characteristic used by Dickens in the book. In what circumstances is it used? To what effect? Words might include drip, dripped, damp, mist, clammy, wet, drizzly, water, swamps, pools, rain, raining, misty, dampness, dripping, drips, and others. What about comparing the wetness motif with occurrences of Miss Havisham?

5. Pip and others suffer rejection frequently. Search for this characteristic and explore what events and characters are connected with its occurrence. Search words might include despised, scorn, scorning, reproach, contempt, insulting, insult, aversion, despise, despises, contemptuous, insolent, insolently, mock, contemptuously, mocking, and others you locate in the book.

6. Mysteriousness and the unknown are often used to maintain interest in a plot. Dickens uses this theme as well. Search for words related to the theme, including strange, strangest, stranger, mystery, mysterious, unknown, suspect, suspicion, suspicious, and others.

7. Dickens uses the idea of marriage in a very provocative way. Sometimes it is almost a metaphor for frustration: Miss Havisham's experience, Pip's longing, Joe's burden. At other times marriage is a joyful accomplishment, as with Wemmick. Trace the use of this theme by the related words and examine what is going on relative to the peaks and valleys of occurrence. Words may include marry, marries, married, marrying, marriage, wed, weds, wedding, wedded, matrimony, matrimonial, wife, husband and others. Note that if you want to focus only on the actual wedding aspect, you might omit husband and wife.

8. How does love function in the novel? Is there much love or only talk of love? Or is love scarce? Search for love, loves, lover, loved, loving.

9. Search for some of the five senses. For example, smell, scent, scented, odor, aroma, smelled, smells, odors.

10. Compare the occurrence of various characters' names throughout the book. Which occur most often, in peaks, most regularly, in proximity with each other, etc.? Include possessive form of each character's name, as in Estella, Estella’s, Jaggers. Jaggers’ and so on. If you runWords.exe and have a count of the occurrence of each character's name, make a pie chart comparing how often each name is mentioned. What do the results mean?

11. Other ideas. What about the word expectations? Gentleman? Jealousy? Loneliness? And perhaps words related to pride, wealth, power, pleasure, pain, cruel, secret.

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com