Great Expectations

Great Expectations: Crime, Guilt, and Human Error Discussed

Charles Dickens’ bildungsroman Great Expectations (1913) cannot help but impress upon the reader an overwhelming sense of guilt that permeates the novel at various levels. As the plot unfolds, the characters develop; the sense of guilt, however, remains unchanging until the primary character, Pip, completes his transformation. This sense of guilt is thematically intertwined with the other themes of crime and punishment and the fallacy of human error; for Pip, it translates into a form of self-imposed guilt. Dickens’s narrator recounts Pip’s journey from a focus on false values to the development of self-awareness and moral fortitude. Early in the novel, Pip finds himself involved in an act of criminal complicity as he steals in order to aid the convict, Magwitch, an act that creates in the young boy immense feelings of guilt:

My state of mind regarding the pilfering from which I had been so unexpectedly exonerated, did not impel me to frank disclosure;... But I loved Joe -- perhaps for no better reason in those early days than because the dear fellow let me love him -- and, as to him, my inner self was not so easily composed. It was much upon my mind (particularly when I first saw him looking about for his file) that I ought to...

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