Great Expectations

Book review by
Kenneth Butler, Common Sense Media
Great Expectations Book Poster Image
Fast-paced, moving Dickens classic of reversed fortune.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Like all of his books after The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations was written to educate and enlighten, as well as entertain. Readers learn about the class system in Victorian England through Pip's journey as he moves up the class scale from country lad to city gentleman. The Victorian Era was a time of great social upheaval and economic advancement, but Dickens is keen to show that Pip's accumulation of wealth and social status does not fully bridge the gap between his poor childhood and material success.

Positive Messages

The moral of Great Expectations is an age-old one: Money cannot buy happiness; happiness comes from within. Much of the author's own life is dramatized in this novel. Despite achieving huge success and wealth at an early age, money and fame never blinded Dickens to the divide between rich and poor, and to the miserable circumstances of the latter. Like George Bernard Shaw after him, Dickens used his popular entertainments as a pulpit to preach the inequities of capitalism and the dire need for reform.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pip is passionate, idealistic, and ambitious, but he learns the consequences of having unrealistic goals. Magwitch, the escaped criminal, turns out to have Pip's best interests at heart.

Violence

No actual violence occurs in the book. There are references to violence having happened, as in Orlick's attack on Mrs. Joe, which leaves her a brain-damaged mute and invalid, but it is not depicted and the reader learns of it after the fact.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There is smoking (mostly of pipes and cigars, and always by men) and drinking, but this is extremely representative of life in England in the 1860s. Lower, middle, and upper classes all consumed alcohol with meals and as entertainment, albeit in different forms and rituals. Drinking -- even heavy drinking -- is historically accurate in a tale of these times, and does not adversely affect the events of the story.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Great Expectations depicts life realistically, particularly the brutal circumstances of the poor in Victorian England. Dickens did not paint a rosy picture unless he was celebrating the kind, considerate, and generous. He held a great hatred for social injustice and apathy, and his position is on full display in this novel and the 1947 film version.

User Reviews

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 16 years old Written byLucy Johnson December 3, 2013

Good Read

Really good read, shows what its like to live in the era of pip, aspects such as relationships and violence catch reader attention.
Kid, 9 years old November 28, 2012

GREAT!!!

Personally, I love books but not usually olden times books such as this but i like books such as Ivanhoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Ol... Continue reading

What's the story?

GREAT EXPECTATIONS takes place during the mid-19th century, and tells the story of Pip, a young orphan in England's marsh country who is thrust onto the class ladder by a series of complex and coincidental circumstances that improve his economic and social status. Along his journey of self-discovery from youth to maturity, he learns the value of friendship, the power of romantic and familial love, and the ultimate meaning of wealth and material gain.

 

Is it any good?

Although many of the characters in this story are stereotypes, this makes them no less effective in telling the story. Charles Dickens is universally regarded as one of the greatest novelists who ever wrote in the English language, if not any language, and Great Expectations is considered, along with Bleak House, to be his best. Many of the characters are typical Dickens: quick sketches with colorfully descriptive names, representing a particular position and/or attitude. The adult characters include Magwitch, the terrifying escaped criminal who sets Pip's adventures in motion, the insane Miss Havisham, the greedy Pumblechook, and the complex and contradictory Wemmick -- in other words, a credible cross-section of adult personalities.

Nineteenth-century literature, with its demanding vocabulary and old-fashioned assumptions and manners, is not everyone's cup of tea, and this includes young readers. But it continues, over a century later, to win new fans who fall in love with the book at a young age. Like all of the author's work, the story is a fast-paced adventure with a compelling hero.

 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why this book has remained a beloved bestseller for more than 140 years, still delighting young and adult readers, and why it is often required reading in school. 

  • Pip learns a number of life lessons throughout the story. What are they?

  • Do you think Pip and Estella are a good match?

Book details

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