Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: "Wasted Expectations"

As a result of my having finished reading Great Expectations on Shabbat—a great English classic—I wanted to write about it yesterday, though I ended up talking about sex instead (story of my life!).
Anyway, I didn't really want to write about this since this seems to be becoming too oft-repeated a theme on my blog, but either way: I must say, throughout the story, and especially towards the end, I was actually upset at Pip for running after the girl he could never get (Estella) instead of just settling down with Biddy. She would have been happy to have him. In the end he does want her, but she's already going and marrying Joe at that point. I'm mad at him because it's a mistake I'm mad at myself for having made in the past.

Yet the fact that his pursuing Estella is mistaken is not only evident by the ending chapters of the novel, but by the dual endings themselves:

It's evident from the last chapters since all of Pips' expectations ended up falling through. In fact the very title "Great Expectations" is actually a wry and ironic title for this tale, since in the end of it, all Pip accomplished after all his expectations was spending so much money on nonsense that he he had to be bailed out of debtors prison by Joe, and wasting his eligible bachelorhood on a prude (he ends up being some old bachelor living in Egypt with his friend and his wife, having reached an age that most girls are not that interested).

It's evident from the endings since in the "pre-Lytton" ending (which is obviously the "real" or "intended" ending) it is obvious that Pip would have been a pretty big "douche" if he still had a "crush" on Estella, who not only didn't consider him after she got divorced, but rarely even had time to say hi to him after eleven years. Yet even in the new ending it's not sure that Pip will ever get Estella; he tells her something along the lines of "But we be friends, right?", and she answers "Yeah. Apart." Then he says something along the lines of "Okay, friends. That's a good start!" I mean, G-d! You would think after 34 years he would get the picture that she doesn't like him, and is barely capable of liking anybody, even after her first marriage.

Rather, as the novel's commentators agree, this work is actually depicting the ills and weaknesses of it's protagonist. It's display of the hero and his story is a display of condemnation and not one of glorification. Pip, in effect, is unappreciative of his having been brought up "by hand". He totally ignores Joe the whole time he's in London. He squanders all his cash on suits even though he doesn't really know where it's coming from. He gives Biddy a bit of a cold shoulder, and he chases a girl who's never going to like him. It's almost a Greek tragedy. Usually I don't like reading stories where all you're saying to the characters while reading it is 'You moron!", but this is one of those stories, and the point is for the reader to contemplate on these mistakes (in essence though, this is actually a misstatement of Dickens' real agenda, which is showing the nobility of the lower classes through the usage of exaggerated characterizations).


inkstainedhands said...

The bottom line is that Charles Dickens is brilliant. :]

So are you going to go on to another Dickens book now? You should read Little Dorrit or Our Mutual Friend; those were really good.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Ha. Yeah, I don't think I want to read another Dickens work right now.

Maybe that Les Miserables you were telling me about. I also ended up buying an original print of One Flew Over the Coocoos Nest for two bucks a couple of weeks back. Maybe I'll look into that as well. When I do get back to Dickens I want to finally conquer A Tale of Two Cities.

To be honest reading novels in general for me is a chore. I'm not really inclined towards that type of reading. But I sort of force myself to be a little worldly!

inkstainedhands said...

You have not read A Tale of Two Cities yet? I kind of assumed you had, otherwise it would be the first Dickens novel I would recommend to you! It's not too long either, so it should not be a chore for you. Les Miserables, on the other hand, might get you discouraged simply because of its length. It's well over 1000 pages long, but it is BRILLIANT.

"But I sort of force myself to be a little worldly!" -- I'm proud of you. :] A lot of people just give up and don't read anything unless they have to do so for school, so it is good that you're doing this even though you're not inclined to. And what's wonderful about literature is that it makes you think about certain things and issues that the book raises, which is another benefit. So good for you!