Master of Arts (MA)
Branson L Woodard
Primary Subject Area
Literature, English; Psychology, Personality; Theology
Dickens, fairy tales, Great Expectations, guilt, identity, redemption
Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1861) stands apart from his other works as a powerful expression of his later social and theological views. Rife with rich characterizations, fairy-tale elements, grotesque and bizarre plot twists, Victorian social issues, and a beautifully thoughtful and imaginative commentary on the universal human themes of loss, guilt, abuse, identity, money, social status, and love, this novel remains an outstanding example of truly great art, both popular and classic. This story of identity formation in a nineteenth-century English context demonstrates how Dickens' life and writings, influenced by spurious and inconsistent theological beliefs, express the idea that sin is largely social rather than personal, and that therefore redemption is a secular rather than a religious concept, illustrated in two different ways in the multiple endings to Great Expectations. In this bildungsroman of epic proportions, Dickens uses the young protagonist Pip to explore the identity of the Victorian gentleman in relationship to his society, employing fairy tale constructs to ridicule the romantic illusions of the time period. Throughout an odyssey of fabulous expectations, vast fortune, unrequited love, and tragic disillusionment, Pip falls from virtue (i.e., his identity is distorted), resulting in tremendous personal loss, but he eventually relinquishes his hollow "great expectations" in order to find a coherent identity. Pip's shallow, external, gentlemanly self, built on a foundation of both deliberate and inadvertent deception, must be confronted and changed in order for his true self to be redeemed.