by Charles Dickens
Challenges & Opportunities
Available to teachers only as part of the Teaching Great Expectations Teacher Pass
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Sample of Challenges & Opportunities
Language and Length
Great Expectations is not a short or easy novel for many students. One way to help deal with the length and scope of the novel is to give students background on its serial publication. The book came out in weekly installments, and helping students imagine a time and place where there were no TVs, movies, or professional sports, can help them see that novels like Great Expectations were the evening's popular entertainment for Victorian Britons. (See our Great Expectations introduction for more of this parallel.) Still, the book is long, and students should be given ample time to get through it, if possible.
The ornate Victorian language can often be an obstacle as well. When students are pushed to look closely, though, they often find that the novel's seemingly serious style masks moments of irony and dark humor. Teachers can show students this right off the bat; for example, the first page mentions Pip's poor brothers who died in infancy, having "gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle." This is humor tinged with morbidity and sadness, for sure, but it's also a darkly comic statement that echoes through the rest of the novel: making a living, and getting through life is hard! Likewise, Mrs. Joe's casual beatings of Pip are an example of how Dickens conveys a real social problem – child abuse, particularly that of orphans – with a biting and bitter sense of humor.