Great Expectations exceeded my expectations

I found this to be a quirky yet poignant rags to riches tale that actually made me laugh out loud at several points. Charles Dickens employs wit and dark comedy to perfection.

The story follows Pip an orphan with latent desires for greatness, desires that would remain unrealized in the backwater countryside in which he lives. He then garners the interest of a mysterious benefactor that is keen on making him a ‘gentleman.’ Pip’s life changes forever of course, but absolutely NOT in the way you would expect. I found this book’s plot twist to be fresh and innovative or maybe I’m just way too easy to please.

The story made me reflect on themes that connect to my own life and the realities of our times. It explores, in funny and sad ways, the corrupting influences of wealth  and class (influences more relevant than ever 157 years after the book was first published.) Why is it that we only accord respect and value to those who are richer, prettier, thinner, whiter, and can read and write? Can’t a person be viewed as  knowledgeable and intelligent outside the framework of literacy/academia/schooling? Ironically it was after college and being deemed ‘cultured and worldly’ that I saw how exclusionary and limiting this type of thinking was (and how it is cultivated insidiously by society) Dear Joe, my favorite character in this novel, is the kind of salt of the earth, honest, compassionate human being I now admire far more readily than those who I was taught for so long to admire: elite/highly learned/ well traveled/PhD/insert inspiring career and accomplishment here.

This is not to say that being literate is unimportant and that there is something wrong with aspiring for success. But we should investigate and interrogate the assumptions that underlie those aspirations. How do we define success and why? For Pip, being a gentleman meant progress whereas remaining in the countryside meant stagnation. For Pip, continuing to associate with his family and friends seemed inappropriate (and even detrimental) now that he occupied a higher rung on the social ladder. Those assumptions were found to be problematic and cost him dearly.

To come to some sort of conclusion, this book was entertaining and also enlightening. The reflections it sparked makes me strive to be humble, fight social conditioning and legitimizing (knowingly and unknowingly) class, stratification, hierarchies and all man-made and oppressive constructs..

 

 

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