Great Expectations

Teaching and learning resources for the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Although most American high school readers struggle a bit with nineteenth-century style, Dickens’s insights into the human condition are universal and timeless. Great Expectations is probably his most widely taught novel in American high schools.

The two endings of Great Expectations—Dickens’s original ending, and the happier, more romantic one he was apparently pushed to publish—are an interesting point of critical discussion. The document linked here includes the text of both endings, as well as my thoughts about the merits of each.

The quote ID quiz linked here is an effective way of testing both memory and comprehension of the text.

The excerpts linked here are significant and representative passages, for which I have provided numerous detailed questions to help develop students’ ability to engage in a sustained close reading of the text. The questions cover skills such as general interpretation, identification and explanation of rhetorical devices, vocabulary in context, and psychological and thematic analysis. There are also more general discussion and writing prompts for each passage.

The Blu-ray linked here is the 1946 David Lean film, which is generally considered a classic and perhaps the best of numerous film and television adaptations.

Essay Prompts

Carefully consider the following prompts. Develop a thesis for one of them, and then write an essay in which you present a detailed, thoughtfully reasoned, well-supported argument in defense of your thesis.

1. Discuss the process of growth that Pip undergoes in the novel. What are his values and goals early in the story, and what are they at the end of the novel? What events and experiences cause this transformation?

2. Discuss one character who is presented in a positive light in the story. What qualities make him or her a heroic or admirable figure?

3. Which of the two endings do you find more aesthetically and/or emotionally satisfying? Decide which one you think is superior, and then develop an argument in defense of your choice.

4. How is the motif of redemption presented and developed in the novel? You can make reference to various elements such as character, style, and plot in developing your argument.

5. Discuss the style in which the novel is written. What are its most significant characteristics? How does each of these characteristics contribute to the effectiveness of the work? Refer to specific examples in presenting your argument.

6. How does the novel define “gentleman”—what are the characteristics of a gentleman? What conception does the young Pip initially have in the novel, and what conception does he end the novel with?

PDF version

Prompts © 2008 C. Brantley Collins, Jr.