Student Notes: Great Expectations – Book by Charles Dickens

great expectations book notes

Student Notes – Great Expectations by Charles Dickens


Great Expectations, written by Charles Dickens and published in 1861, is a classic coming-of-age novel that explores themes of ambition, social class, identity, and personal growth. Set in nineteenth-century England, the novel follows the journey of Pip, an orphaned boy who dreams of escaping his humble origins and becoming a gentleman. These comprehensive student notes provide an in-depth analysis of key elements, themes, and symbolism in Great Expectations, shedding light on Dickens’ social commentary and the timeless relevance of the novel.



  • The novel is primarily set in early nineteenth-century England, with key locations including the marshes of Kent, the bustling streets of London, and the eerie Satis House. Dickens’ vivid descriptions immerse readers in the social and geographical landscape of the time, capturing the stark contrast between the urban and rural environments.


Historical Context:

  • Great Expectations reflects the social and economic transformations of Victorian England. The Industrial Revolution brought rapid urbanization, widening gaps between social classes, and a growing emphasis on material wealth. Dickens critiques these societal changes and highlights the struggles faced by individuals navigating this shifting landscape.



Pip (Philip Pirrip):

  • The Protagonist: Pip is a young orphan who is raised by his sister and her husband, Joe. His encounters with Miss Havisham and Estella shape his desire for advancement and his journey towards self-discovery.

Miss Havisham:

  • A Wealthy Spinster: Miss Havisham is a wealthy, eccentric woman who lives in Satis House. She is characterized by her vengeful and manipulative nature, driven by her own tragic past.


  • Miss Havisham’s Adopted Daughter: Estella is a beautiful but cold-hearted young woman raised by Miss Havisham. Pip falls in love with her, and their relationship drives much of his ambition and personal growth.

Abel Magwitch:

  • A Convict: Abel Magwitch, known as “the convict,” encounters Pip in the marshes and later reveals himself as Pip’s mysterious benefactor. His character challenges notions of morality and compassion.


  • A Lawyer: Mr. Jaggers is a prominent lawyer who becomes Pip’s guardian. He is known for his cold and pragmatic approach to the law, often representing the darker aspects of society.


Plot Summary:

  • Great Expectations follows Pip’s journey from his humble beginnings as a blacksmith’s apprentice to his pursuit of becoming a gentleman. As he receives a mysterious fortune from an anonymous benefactor, Pip is thrust into the complexities of high society, encountering love, betrayal, and personal transformation along the way.


Key Themes and Symbolism:

Ambition and Social Class:

  • Dickens explores the themes of ambition and social mobility, highlighting the desire for upward mobility and the dangers of becoming consumed by wealth and status.

Identity and Self-Discovery:

  • The novel delves into questions of identity, self-worth, and the importance of recognizing one’s true self amidst societal expectations and pressures.

Social Critique and Justice:

  • Dickens critiques the disparities between social classes, highlighting the injustices and inequalities prevalent in Victorian society. The character of Magwitch serves as a symbol of social redemption and the capacity for personal growth.

Love and Redemption:

  • Great Expectations explores the transformative power of love and the potential for redemption. Pip’s love for Estella and his relationships with other characters drive his moral development and quest for self-realization.


Analysis and Discussion Points:

  • Dickens’ use of vivid imagery and descriptive language
  • The role of female characters and their impact on Pip’s development
  • Symbolism of the settings, such as Satis House and the marshes
  • The moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Pip throughout the novel
  • Dickens’ social critique of Victorian society and its treatment of marginalized individuals



Great Expectations remains a timeless classic that explores themes of ambition, social class, identity, and personal growth. Charles Dickens’ masterful storytelling and complex characters offer a profound critique of Victorian society and the human condition. Through the comprehensive student notes provided, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the novel’s historical context, characters, plot, themes, and Dickens’ enduring literary legacy. Great Expectations serves as a reminder of the power of self-discovery, the perils of unchecked ambition, and the redemptive nature of love and compassion.

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