What is the central theme of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and how is it developed?

The greed for money and the corrupting influence which it has upon human being constitute the core of Charles DickensGreat Expectations. The other themes apart from this are crime and its punishment, justice and the law, the dignity of labor etc.

There are characters in the novel that show their greed for money. Miss Havisham is a rich lady and her relatives who are poor, call on her occasionally and especially on her birthday to win her favor and the get some money. Miss Havisham was also deceived by her lover because of this greed for money. After robbing her great deal of money, he deserted her.

Pip, the hero of the novel is also influenced by monetary considerations. He becomes a snob. He starts regarding money and prosperity superior to human relationships. After meeting Estella and Miss Havisham, the ladies of much higher social class, he develops a sense of inferiority. The work of a black smith which he used to like once now seems to him coarse and inferior. He falls in love with Estella and no account of her he wants to become a gentleman. His entire outlook on life changes and when Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer comes to tell Pip and Joe about the change in Pip’s snobbishness further increases. He does not show much regret at the time of bidding farewell to Joe and when he receives a letter that Joe is coming to meet him in London, he feels annoyed. He is embarrassed by his rustic manners at Herbert’s apartment. Pip forgets Joe’s love and attachment at this time and compares his manner with those of the city people. Later when goes to his native town, instead of styling at the smithy, he stays at an inn. Biddy and Joe feel hurt by this change in pip but they keep quite.

Money makes pip arrogant and he develops certain coldness in his heart. He is no longer warm-hearted and attached to Joe as he used to be when he was a boy. Though he suffers from a sense of guilt and feels that he is doing wrong, avoids meeting Joe. In other words, money and his status have preferred his mind.     

The greed for money is shown in other characters also. Pip’s friend, Herbert, who is considered to be a good man, is also not an exception. He also expected some money from Miss Havisham and he had the hope that Miss Havisham will offer Estella to him in marriage. But in the trial he is not successful. Later, on pip’s pleading Miss Havisham gives nine hundred pounds to Herbert.

Uncle Pumblechook, a friend of pip’s sister, is also obsessed with money. He scolded pip occasionally and treated him harshly when he was a boy? But when pip’s fortune changes, he is gentle and loving towards him. On occasions he is also servile.

Estella also married Drummle because of money. She knows very before her marriage that marriage will be unsuccessful, yet, Drummle is a rich man, and she marries him.

Though Dickens is of the opinion that through money a man can gain knowledge, education and good manners, but in this novel money serves as the agent of isolation. It brings in corruption and moral decay. Pip spends money lavishly on clothes, on pomp and show, and this leads and his friend Herbert into debt.

In short the conduct of number of characters in the play show that money is the cause of isolation, of corruption and a number of other evils. It will not be wrong to say that novel is a satire on servility towards rank and wealth.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta
       4. Wikipedia

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