My apologies, but what you are about to read isn’t going to be a book review of Great Expectations. I think this book is fantastic, but can’t seem to get into a reviewing frame of mind – whatever that may be. I can’t seem to move past the idea that any great expectations we have for ourselves can go seriously astray. Like Pip, our witty and intelligent narrator, I start to look back …
When I was in my early twenties, I tried very hard to be someone I was not. A small town girl who had moved to the city, I felt overwhelmed by the sophistication of others and my own painful awkwardness. I was determined to fit in. I spent a lot of money and time keeping up appearances. Of course, it was absolutely exhausting and anything gained had not eliminated the feelings of self-doubt and self-worth from the beginning. It only highlighted my foolishness. The surprising part was there seemed to be plenty of people around who sniffed out insecurities like blood-thirsty hounds. I had my fair share of encounters with those who amused themselves by trying to make you feel like were just not good enough. Life is a cosmic high school, so says Ethan Hawke of Great Expectations adaptation fame.
For this reason, I immediately recognized the self-hatred and shame that burned through Pip when he first visited Satis House, and Miss Havisham and Estella cruelly played with him like a mouse held down by a cat’s paw. Pip tries to grasp the injustice of their treatment and suddenly little things he never noticed about himself are embarrassing and wrong. His coarse hands prove he is lacking somehow as a human being, as if he does not deserve fairness and respect.
Yes, people like this should mean nothing. They are not our loved ones and they do not know us. But they get to us with their obnoxious attitudes, their snarky comments climb into our heads and fester inside like a disease. Sometimes they motivate us to action with greater incentive than a thousand loving words from someone who supports us. We become driven to prove them wrong.
From this first meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella, Pip becomes determined to stop being common. He decides the best way to change the course of his life is to become educated. As he explores his options, suddenly a mysterious benefactor begins financing his life with the intention that Pip become a gentleman. But like many of us who come of age and are given a credit card upon being released into society, Pip finds spending money a wonderful form of entertainment while he completes his education and pines away for Estella.
I liked Pip’s desire to improve his situation because I admire anyone who is self-made, anyone who can take nothing and turn it into something whether it be ideas or the circumstances of their life. When Pip’s status is elevated with the benefactor’s money, I wanted something more from him during this period. I was expecting something big. I felt a little disappointed with all the partying. Probably because I pretty much wasted my youth the same way.
However, maybe it’s not Pip’s true nature to be big with a capital B. During this time Pip forms friendships that last his lifetime. He learns to love like a father the convict who believes in his worth and wants to make him a gentleman. He neglects Joe and then comes to realize the importance of family and accepting where he came from. And as the ultimate scale that weighs his value, Pip continues to love Estella clearly understanding why she doesn’t love him back. From all this, I think Pip discovers that it may have been his true nature all along to be a simple person. It is people who raise him up and not status or money. He can be happy by being himself and not try so hard to be someone he is not.
As for me, I think I also learned somewhere along the way that “keeping it simple, stupid” is not bad advice and life in the fast lane is so overrated. I relived all of this reading Pip’s story. Again, sorry for not discussing all of the interesting themes, characters and storylines of this truly wonderful book. I don’t think I’m a good book reviewer anyway. I feel like I’m just ranting and talking out of my ass. This time around I just wanted to reflect on how Great Expectations affected me as a reader.
One last word about the ending: I didn’t like it. I would have preferred that Pip ran into Estella on the street and then they went separate ways again because really they were always strangers to each other. The existence of love does not always require a happy ending in my book, just like life.