Great Expectations: An analysis on Critical Theories

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Great Expectations, as its title indicates, is an energizing story that centers on Pip's life and his optimistic outlook on the future. His sister and her spouse are his only family, and he is a young orphan boy. Pip likes going for walks with his uncle Pumblechook while leading a middle-class lifestyle. Pip runs into Estella on one of their city strolls. In contrast to Pip's family, which is from a middle class background, she is a lovely young woman from a wealthy family. The reader can foresee the "great expectation" from the build-up thanks to Pip's wish for Estella. However, does the narrative have a deeper meaning? How does the novel fair in a feminist, Marxist and Psychoanalytic perspective. This paper will aim at analyzing the novel with relevance to psychoanalytic, feminism, and Marxism critics.

Pip lives with his abusive elder sister; he is often forced to steal to make ends meet. Even though the sister's husband is kind to him, his current job does not allow him to look up for Pip. One morning, Pip stumbles upon a convict who instructs him to steal a file and food. Out of fear, Pip adheres to his commands. His mischief does not last for long as Pip is soon to be discovered. To his surprise, the convict saves him, as he provides false confession making him guilty for the stolen goods comprising of a pie, brandy, and file. From the storyline, it is clear to understand that the theme stays on the positive side of Pip despite the numerous challenges he encounters along the way. Given Pip's harsh environment the narrative is able to provide other sideline themes relating to the three criticisms as discussed in this essay paper.

Psychoanalytic Criticism

In the modern theories, psychoanalytic criticism is one of the most misunderstood and unpopular philosophies of modern times. As employed by Fred, this criticism adopts "reading" methods to interpret texts and literature works. According to Fred, and later other theorists, literature pieces are a mode of expression by the authors. Similar to dreams, their literal works aim to express their unconscious intrinsic, secret fears, and desires which they are unable to express in their personal lives (Gissing, 79). With this, it is easy to psychoanalyze that the context of the novel, Great Expectation, and conclude that it is based on his experience as a young child living in London.

While approaching Great Expectation from a psychoanalytic perspective; it becomes inevitable to carry out the analysis using repression, symbols, conscious nature as well as dreams in order to relate with what the author intended and what he did not intend to pass on to his audience. It is important to note that main thesis of psychoanalysis is based on the relationship between the human psychology and literature as addressed by Sigmund Freud. As a result, it can be said that Freud has changed how literature is read and interpreted with his introduction of psychoanalysis. Similarly, his works have changed how people see the world through his contributions on human psychology.

Psychoanalysis criticism is, thus, a way through which we get to analyze other critical theories that make up modern philosophy and psychology. For example, it is through psychoanalysis that we get to understand the characters presented by Dickens. The readers get to understand the inner meaning of each character and their role in the whole story. Psychoanalysis, thus, brings out the important symbolic function of every scene and character while understanding inner theme presented. For instance, while deriving from the novel we get to notice that Ms. Havisham is always dressed in her wedding dress while stepping out of her home. From our psychoanalysis we can conclude that she has a repressive and repetitive behavior from her old age. Such thoughts are seconded by the comment from Pip on his first encounter that she resembles "some ghastly wax-work at the Fair" (71). The bottom line is that psychoanalysis helps us to understand each character more with their uniqueness and character. On a wider perspective, psychoanalysis opens a door of assumptions and notions that help us to apply other critical theories.

Marxist Criticism

In general, Marxism is a classification of the socioeconomic relations prevalent in the society. With this being said, the philosophical study relating to Marxism is concerned with the societal conflict and class relation. These two perspectives among other are analyzed through the dialectical aspect of social change as well as the interpretation of materialism according to historical development. As such, the Marxist theory is popular across the world as it has been used to showcase purpose of social struggle as well as criticize the development of capitalism in the economic parameters of a social system. In the modern era, the analysis and criticism of the Marxism theory continue to have a great influence as to spur social movements and dictate political ideologies. In reference to this essay, his work has impacted art, literature and music both directly and indirectly.

As the name suggests, the Marxist criticism is embedded on the perspective and theory of Karl Marx. More importantly, his ideology is reflected on Great Expectation based on the political and economic elements. Among the works of Karl Marx, it is easy to identify that class struggle is a key element in his quest to bring about social change in the Western countries. In the novel, the work of Karl Marx becomes visible as his theory reflects the context of the narrative in more than one way. The author, Charles Dickens, uses the character of Pip as well as the relationship between Joe, Magwitch, and Estella to reveal subjugation of the privileged from the working class. Such a theme falls central to the principles and theories raised by Karl Marx in his independent findings (Gissing, 72).

With reference to the narrative, the doctrine of Marxism can be seen in the work of Charles Dickens. For instance, one of the characters in the book-Estella, is seen to be judgmental to Pip. As the reader continues to get acquainted to the storyline, it becomes apparent that Estella is brought up in a more prosperous home when compared to Pip who comes from a middle-income family. The difference in their background in terms of social welfare makes Estella to look down on Pip as being inferior. As narrated in the novel, Estella hurls insults to Pip when she utters that "he is a common laboring boy. And look at his boots!" (pg.45). In Addition, she is seen to criticize his speech. She laughs at him when he confuses the playing cards and terms one as Jack while it was Knaves. Her attitude towards Pip is negative and this is cause by their clear difference in social class.

The artistic work of Dickens showcases the Marxism theory. Due to the difference in social status, the privileged society insulted the middle class for lacking their set of standards as those reflected in their community. In the story, Estella represents the high class in the narrative. She adds negative comments towards Pip when she describes him as being a "stupid, clumsy laboring boy" (46). In her upbringing, Estella is not used to interact with people in the caliber of Pip. As a result, she labels him as being unintelligent when they first meet and interact. Estella's attitude to Pip is alarming as it affects his self-esteem. Soon afterwards, Pip begins to wonder how she will think of him at the sight of his poor family. In addition, he is also worried that she will find out what Joe does for a living and despise him even more. Even though the two main characters, Pip and Estelle have a slight margin in their social lifestyles, they depict a huge variance in character. While Estelle is arrogant and proud, Pip on the other hand is humble, polite, and appreciative.

Feminist Criticism

In a literary form, feminist criticism basically gives a female perspective in the unveiling of events. It can also be viewed as a politicized way of literature that gives a critical analysis of how male and female characters interact in the context of the story. Conversely, feminist criticism focuses to highlight women repression and how female characters are viewed by the main character, society or audience. Thus, female criticism is one of the popular modern philosophies on critical theory. And as such, it also sums up as one of the most agreeable in terms of its application in literature and social stories. While it draws its assumptions and notions from other related philosophies, such as the Marxists, Psychoanalytic, and destruction theories among others; it plays a crucial role in showcasing the disparities and inequities between genders.

While female criticism is common in modern day literature, Great Expectation is not an exception. The writer uses Pip to showcase the hostility of women towards men. Pip often encounters the female gender almost throughout the narrative. To make matters worse, the approach of the women towards him are viewed as being cold and spiteful of his appearance and presence into his life. The author Charles Dickens, thus, improvises perfect scenario where feminist criticism theory can be applied. Starting from her elder sister, Pip gets a rough time as he is abused as a young orphaned child. The same case can be said of Estella who is contemptuous towards him for the sole reason of originating from a poorer background.

In fact, Pip is treated poorly by women throughout the storyline. As such, it is true to claim that Pip continues to be the subject of Mrs. Joes who exemplifies a tyrant-like childhood. At the same time, Pip appears to be the tool of the warped education for Ms. Havisham from Estella's perspective. To make matters worse, Pip is in an awkward position with his first love, Estella, who despises his every effort. In this act, his strongest emotions are involved and the cold treatment from his great love seems to affect his self-worth. From such events, the audience gets a sense of sympathy for Pip who has the entire women world falling on him.

However, it is not the intension of the author to have the readers sympathizing with their situations. As far as the context of the narrative is concerned, each character deserves what befalls them. From their literal and social roots, it is inevitable that they deserve what destiny has in store for them. With this being said, it is also vivid to interpret Dickens attitude and perspective towards women. While he picks Pip as the persona who represents his early life in London, Dickens portrays most women in the narrative as being cold, corrupt, evil, and impure. Of course, this is with the exception of Biddy who is a teacher and friend to Pip.

Great Expectation is a rich piece from Charles Dickens from which several critical theories can be derived from. As described by many analysts across the globe, the story showcases the impact of a confident author as well as a conscious genius. Looking at the title of the book, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the author want to create anticipation to the readers. While this might be true, we also come to the revelation that the title holds more significance than to attract its audience. First, it showcases the unbelievable hope of a young orphaned boy living under the care of his abusive elder sister. However, the application of psychoanalysis will lead us to think it is the will and desire of the author to accomplish all he had in one book that lead to the title of the novel.


Indeed, the novel is a great piece which covers all the three critical theories namely; Psychoanalysis, Marxism and Feminism. As discussed in the paper, the author seems to have a "weak eye" on the female gender. Under feminism criticism, the author places the main character, Pip, under awkward positions with most of the women in the storyline. As such, there is a general perspective that he tries to showcase the female gender as being evil, weak, and impure. Such attributes can be derived from how most of the women, including Estella, treat Pip with a cold attitude. Such attributes on a psychoanalysis perspective might emanate from the author's personal life in his upbringing. From a Marxist critical review, it is also easy to understand that social change and the role of capitalism might have a crucial part to play on how the character interrelated. As a result, such cold treatment reflects on the prevalent societal conflicts that emerge out of class relations.

While Dickens remains to be one of the most adored novelist in English literature, his work continues to prove of his genius exceptional content. This paper has been able to provide the context of the novel Great Expectations as well as give a detailed explanation of how the three chosen critical theories can be applied in the narrative. Psychoanalysis criticism seems to open the door through which analysts can apply the other two theories: Marxist and Feminism. The application of such theories shows the greater expectation of the author to continue his effort in advocating for educational and social reforms during his time.

Word count: 2213

Works Cited

Dickens, Charles, and Jill Kriegel. Great Expectations: With an Introduction and Contemporary Criticism. Ignatius Press, 2010.

Gissing, George. Charles Dickens: A Critical Study. Stroud: The History Press, 2012.

June 19, 2023

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