Study Guide

Great Expectations What’s Up With the Title?

By Charles Dickens

What’s Up With the Title?

If Charles Dickens were writing today, he'd … probably be writing for HBO.

No, but seriously: if he were writing today (and in the U.S.), Great Expectations would probably be titled something like New York Dreams, because that's essentially Pip's goal: he wants to go off to the big city, make his fame and fortune, and then marry Estella—not to mention, astound his podunk hometown. So, basically, Pip is like every talented misfit in the history of the world.

But one by one, Great Expectations destroys Pip's great expectations. London isn't a gold-paved paradise; it's a filthy rat-hole. His fortune isn't from Miss Havisham; it's from Magwitch. He's not going to become a rich gentleman; he's going to become a hardworking shipping agent. Great expectations may literally refer to the fortune he expects to inherit—"expectations" was nineteenth-century code for "I'm going to inherit money when Grandpa dies"—but they're also every hope he ever had.

We hate to break it to you dreamers, this is kind of just what life is for most people. At some point, most of us realize that we're just going to live life like the vast majority of people: "working hard for a sufficient living" (59.35), no matter which ending you get.

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