Great Expectations

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

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 16 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

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.


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.

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

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHeloo July 20, 2019
Adult Written byguy645782q6471865 March 15, 2019


The book SUCKS! I got bored to death on chapter 7 for goodness sake. It has way too much useless detail and is not engaging.
Teen, 14 years old Written byRatings111 January 27, 2020

Its a classic but not for everybody

This book is a classic and very famous but it can also be very hard to understand and sometimes very confusing. Of course, this is all my personal opinion thoug... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byjuliadeal January 11, 2018

Awe-Inspiring Novel

This novel is undoubtedly one of the greatest books I have yet to read. It captures the detailed sense of human nature through whimsical characters. It it relat... 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

Our editors recommend

For kids who love classics

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate