Great Aspirations: A Literary Essay on Great Expectations


One of the essentials of human fulfillment is a sense of satisfaction within oneself. An inability to achieve this would result in an ambition to improve or a yearning for something more. In Great Expectations, Dickens attempts to portray the theme that dissatisfaction evokes great aspirations for amelioration or rectification. This overarching theme is evident throughout the novel and is shown primarily in Mrs. Pocket, Miss Havisham, Pip, and Trabb’s Boy. These characters in one form or another express hopes for improvement.


Mrs. Pocket is one of Dickens’ pathetic characters who leads a life of stagnancy and degeneration as a result of dissatisfaction with her social status. She shows adulation for the rich and a longing for wealth and status, but yet she but she fails to show ambition to take action in rectifying her dissatisfaction. The source of this dissatisfaction comes mainly from the presumption that her father had “directed her to be brought up from her cradle as one who in the nature of things must marry a title” (p. 206) and the fact that she was brought up under conditions that facilitated these opportunities. Her father was posthumously knighted and perhaps even “would have been made a baronet but for somebody’s determined opposition arising out of entirely personal motives” (p.205). To comfort her griefs and regrets for this loss in opportunity, Mrs. Pockets obsessively indulges herself in reading her book of titles. In fact, this obsession has extended to such a degree that her entire life is absorbed in perpetually repeating that book and ignoring all other maternal and marital obligations, leaving her house and family in a state of confusion and havoc. Mrs. Pocket is a pathetic character because she will never progress in life, incessantly brooding over her misfortunes of not being able to marry a title. Although Mrs. Pocket does not attempt to take any action in ameliorating her condition, she still exhibits a yearning for something that she does not have. In her case, it is wealth and status.


Contrary to Mrs. Pocket, Miss Havisham is an ideal example of a dissatisfied person who perseveres to compensate for her dissatisfactions. Miss Havisham is a personification of the idle and dissatisfied rich, despite all of the wealth and education of the aristocracy. The ambition and perseverance in her sadistic desires to wreak havoc on all men that results from this dissatisfaction is shocking. Miss Havisham, after having her heart broken by Compeyson, endeavors take out her sadistic vengeance on all the male sex. She attempts to achieve this through the manufacturing and manipulation of Estella, using her beauty and allure to infatuate and break the hearts of as many men as possible. In fact, Miss Havisham is so obsessed with her failed marriage and the mental pain and agony that ensued, that she endeavors to shut herself out from the rest of the world, in her sunlight deprived Satis house. She attempts this as a result of her remorse over the betrayal of Compeyson, to enclose herself in her own bubble impervious to time and the world around her. To remind herself of that moment when she found out about the adverse news of her marriage, she tries to keep that moment, always wearing her disintegrating wedding dress and only shoe. Despite Miss Havisham’s desperate attempts to amend her dissatisfactions, there is one thing that she constantly asks for but is virtually unobtainable; love from Estella. As a consequence of creating a child deprived from emotions and innate human affection, she cannot find reciprocal love from Estella. Nonetheless, Miss Havisham longs for it. Although Miss Havisham may not have been one of the book’s most favourable characters, she definitely deserves credit for her persistent attempts to rectify her dissatisfactions.


As Dickens’ chief protagonist in Great Expectations, Pip is arguably the most dissatisfied and self-demanding character in the entire novel, exhibiting three forms of ambition for self-improvement; moral, social, and educational. Pip shows a strong moral conscience and he severely chastises himself whenever he realizes that he has acted immorally. During Pip’s departure to London, Pip realizes how pompously and ungratefully he had behaved towards Joe and Biddy. As a result, Pip relentlessly torments himself through his entire trip. “I