Michael Kneeland's Reviews > Great Expectations

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
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Jul 14, 08

Read in November, 1996

My students (and some of my friends) can't ever figure out why I love this novel so much. I explain how the characters are thoroughly original and yet timeless, how the symbolism is rich and tasty, and how the narrative itself is juicy and chock-full of complexity, but they just shake their heads at me in utter amazement and say, "What's wrong with you, dude?"

What's wrong, indeed.

I give them ten or fifteen years. Perhaps they'll have to read it again in college, or maybe they'll just try reading it again as an adult to see if they can try to figure out why it's such a "classic," but after some time has passed from their initial encounter with the novel, they will find that I am not so crazy after all and that the book is in fact one of the best examples--if not the best example--of the novel. This happens to me all the time: I will re-read something I was forced to read in middle school and high school, remembering how much I hated it then, and will find that I actually love it now, as an adult. Sure, those "classics" may have taught me something about literary analysis, symbolic patterns, and the like, but I couldn't appreciate it for its complexity until I was older. I guess the rule of wine appreciation applies here, too: good taste only comes after much patience and experience.


Perhaps the thing I love best about this novel is the cast of characters--their names as well as their personalities. Ms. Havisham is one of my favorite characters to ever appear in all of the literature I have read. There is so much density and complexion to her character that I could literally make an entire career out of writing discourses on her characterization. She has even invaded the way I think about the world and the people I have met: I have, for instance, started referring to those instances where parents try to achieve success through their children "the Havisham effect" (unfortunately, you see this all too often in the world of teaching). Havisham's name is another exasperatingly fantastic aspect of her character: like the majority of Dickens' characters, you pretty much know what you're in for when you first read her name--she is full of lies, tricks, and deceits (or "sham"s). You don't get this sort of characterization much of anywhere else in the literary scene.

Another reason I love this novel so much is its plotting. Remember, Dickens was writing in a serialized format so he needed to keep his readers hooked so that they'd want to buy the next issue of his periodical, All the Year Round, in order to see what happens next. Thus, the plot of Great Expectations is winding, unpredictable, and quite shocking at points. Certainly, in terms of heavy action--well, what our youngsters these days would call action, fighting and big explosions and what-not--there is none, or very little at most, but that's not the thing to be looking for. Figure out the characters first, and then, once you've gotten to know and even care for them (or hate them), you will be hooked on the plot because you will want to know what happens to these people who you've invested so much feeling into. This is, of course, true of all novels, but it's what I tell my students when they read Great Expectations for the first time, and by gum, it's helped more than a few of them get through the novel successfully.

So, if you read Great Expectations in middle school, high school, or college, but haven't picked it up since, I urge you to do so. With a more patient and experienced set of eyes, you just might surprise yourself.
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Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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Deborah At least they are reading it. I love Great Expectations. I love that the hero was morally flawed, that Estella finally expressed a shred of humanity, that Biddy married Joe just as Pip finally came to his senses.

I often wonder if Pip would really have been happy with his station in life, even if he had never met Miss Havasham. If not her, then perhaps something else would have triggered it.

I felt an overwhelming sadness for Pip in the end.

رناتا Very nice review. I just finished the book and I liked it, but still reading what you wrote made me rethink about the characters and the plot again and probably will re-read it as soon as I have time. I agree with you, I think it's the kind of novel that I will grow to love if I read it several times.

Janet I've done exactly what you said - tried reading it again now that I'm older. Loved it this time around!

Jenny I loved your review. I read it in 6th grade, hated it, and was unfortunately turned off of Dickens. How much I've missed out on! I just read Bleak House and loved it, so I decided to try Great Expectations again in hopes I would appreciate it this time around.

message 5: by Nicholas (new)

Nicholas Really Mr. Kneeland, I made an account just to comment It's me Nick, give us a break It's a lot to follow Mr. Kneeland, It's a great book I've read it before, but you needed to give us a just a bit more time perhaps time that dosen't intersect with the DC trip. Because of the trip, I fell behind and eventually quit reading it altogether. If it hadn't been for your interpretation and summary I may have been lost altogether

Anne-Marie I generally love Dickens, but really struggled with this. However, your enthusiastic review has inspired me to have another go at this one in the future! Thanks!

Sasha I had to study this novel in one of the courses and I've been in love with it since then. Now after reading this review I'm willing to read it again and again till I get everything I couldn't understand back then and as you said:"With a more patient and experienced set of eyes"

Charity U I'm in highschool and I love this book. :)

Kamae Acejo I am also high school and I adore this book. You're right, the story is very unpredictable and has alot of perplexities which make it all the more interesting. :)

Cheryl Exactly definitely a timeless story which I will re-read several times in my life! :>

Veronique A great review, thanks Michael.

message 12: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana I have to read Great Expectations for an Independent Novel Project in school and was wondering whether or not you could give me a complete summary of the book. Please! Well, if not, that's fine too.

Elizabeth Jaimes I guess I'll have to pick up this book again after two years and see if it's any better.

Amber I'm 16 and some of my friends have said, "Oh! That's a great movie!" And I just shake the book in their faces and say, "No! It's a great book! The greatest of all TIME!" Love Great Expecctations.

hpboy13 I'm in full agreement. My best friend read this in high school and detests it. I just read it (junior in college), and thought it was nothign short of brilliant. I guess this is one for the older readers.

Jessica I agree with Michael I just started reading this book today for my high school academic English class and so far I love it! It is really good And I just finished chapter 1

message 17: by K8 (new) - rated it 4 stars

K8 Miss Havisham is such a rich character- one of my favorites in literature as well! The concept of her and her house frozen in time on the day of her wedding is so haunting and so intriguing to me

Janet I am now 60 and in the past year I have rediscovered the classics. 'Finding' Dickens again has been a joy. And rereading 'Great Expectations' has been like finding an old friend. I read your review after writing mine and I was struck by the final sentences in both -- mine ends with '... if you haven't read 'Great Expectations' since it was an assignment in school, read it again.' I hope people take our advice.

Minnie chung I totally agree with you, boughtthis book for a long time, but never considered really reading it. Until now, post highschool, thinking for the uncertain future, I finally picked this up, and am really in love it. A classic coming of age tale.

message 20: by Natalie (new)

Natalie thank you for your review. I, like every other commenter, agree with you wholeheartedly. I found most books in high school hard to enjoy. I Ann reading them again and finding them quite enjoyable. I just started great expectations and I'm glad I picked it up again. I'm going to check out your other reviews as well. thanks again.

Oznasia Dickens was writing for adults. Why do you try to force his writing onto children?

Mdimilla I loved it as a child and am enjoying it again now.

Oznasia Mdimilla wrote: "I loved it as a child and am enjoying it again now."
Perhaps you did but you are unusual. For a start, unless you are a genius, you would not have fully understood the nature of the relationships that Dickens was writing about. There are many reviews of this book here on Goodreads that support my argument that much of Dicken's writing is not suitable for the average child. There are many writers writing great young-adult books now. These books are much more appropriate for young people to be studying. By forcing inappropriate material onto teenagers, teachers turn many of them off reading. Surely their job is to guide them to a love of reading. I am not criticising this book. I enjoyed it. Unfortunately it took me 50 years to return to Dickens after a teacher turned me off him with 'David Copperfield' back when I was 14.

hpboy13 Oznasia wrote: "Mdimilla wrote: "I loved it as a child and am enjoying it again now."
Perhaps you did but you are unusual. For a start, unless you are a genius, you would not have fully understood the nature of th..."

AMEN!! School nearly turned me off classics entirely, and it's not like there's a shortage of good books for teens to read.

message 25: by Pk (new) - added it

Pk I just read it to my 10&11 yr old boys. It didn't take as long as expected because they kept begging for one mire chapter. They are soccer playing, Star Wars fanatics, and they loved it.

James You've perfectly described my experience as a high school freshman being forced to read this "boring crap." Reading it now, I can't believe something written so long ago could have so much cutting edge humor. I am absolutely loving it, and find myself laughing out loud at times, asking "did he really say that?" Thanks for sharing your perspective...it fit me to a T!

Oznasia James wrote: "You've perfectly described my experience as a high school freshman being forced to read this "boring crap." Reading it now, I can't believe something written so long ago could have so much cutting ..."

: )

message 28: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Walcott I agree that Miss Havisham is an amazing character in this story. Truthfully, while reading this story I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. She let an incident that happened to her years ago run her whole entire life. She lost herself and suffered for so long. She as so blinded by the anger it changed her perception of men in general. She fed words into her daughters ear and tried allowed her daughter to almost miss out on the opportunity to find true love. Fortunately, once she came to the realization of how dreadful she as acting she tried to make things right with the people she knew that she had affected the most. She finally began to understand that two wrongs cannot and will not be able to make a right. This is why I truly love Miss Havisham. She was able to acknowledge what she did wrong and tried to fix it.

Rhonda Greene As an educator, I laughed out loud when you wrote about labeling parents who try to live through their children as the "Havisham effect". It is so true and I am so jealous I did not come up with the label. I use the label in a more literal sense to describe mothers that are so hardened to love that they rob their children of any belief or hope in it.... even to the extent of complaining about their children being exposed to fiction/fairy-tale/happy juvenile/fun literature. i guess they want them to know the world is a tough place in third grade. Most of my students already live in the hard stuff and know it well. Why can't I give them a little literary fun? Some parents are too hardened by the world to see its value. That is my "Havisham" effect. Unfortunately, I see it too often even in the elementary setting.
Great review.

message 30: by fcrazeg (new) - added it

fcrazeg Hey... I am currently reading Great Expectations, actually I have been reading it for a while but I can decide to finish. I decided to read it because I have read David Copperfield and I enjoyed to much; I thing Dickens had a stronghold to write the story of his life in that way. So, I wanted to read all Dickens' books. Tales of two Cities and then began GE. I understand what you say about the characters, the construction of each one is impeccable but something happens with the story, the narration that I cant finish, the change of scenario (to London) broke my approach. Some advice?

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