by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations Theme of Time
If we could turn back time … we'd tell Pip to refuse to enter Miss Havisham's garden. But we can't. So, instead, we'll just point out that Great Expectations is, more than anything, a novel about the passage of time. (Is it a coincidence that Dickens wrote it squarely in the middle of his middle age, at age 48?) Miss Havisham may stop the clocks, but she can't stop time: Pip may not be stuck in a tattered wedding dress, but he—like all of us—is still worn down by the passage of years.
Questions About Time
- Why do you think Miss Havisham stops her clocks at the exact moment she receives the letter from Compeyson?
- How many years does this novel span in Pip's life? How does the novel's chronology affect our understanding of time?
- What is the significance, if any, of the church bells ringing out the hour the night of Magwitch's arrival in London?
- When does time slow down and when does it speed up in this novel, or does it plod along at a consistent pace? What is the effect of this pacing? What might Dickens be saying about novelistic plotting in relation to the way we remember our lives?
Chew on This
Miss Havisham and Pip view time in similar ways; she's trapped in the past, while he tries to escape to his future.
Time is a destructive force in Great Expectations. It never brings anything good.