Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!
Print

English Literature

Themes

By a theme we mean an idea that runs through the text. A text [text: Any piece of writing. More widely, a text can be anything that conveys meaning - eg, a film, tv programme, advert, website, or image. ] may have one theme, or many. Understanding the themes makes the text more than 'just' a story - it becomes something more significant, because we're encouraged to think deeper about the story and work out what lies beyond the plot [plot: The sequence of events in a narrative; a story. ].

Growing up (and growing wiser)

  • Great Expectations is a book about growing up. The reader meets Pip when he is seven, and follows his life until he meets Estella again (after 11 years apart) at the age of 35.
  • The proper term for this kind of story is the German word bildungsroman [bildungsroman: A type of novel that tells about the the early moral, psychological, and intellectual development of the main character. The Harry Potter books are a modern-day example. ] (meaning 'instruction novel').
  • The fact that Pip is also the narrator of the story makes it more instructive, because he is able to interpret the meaning of what is happening, as well as see it through a child's eyes.
  • The reader lives Pip's life with him, and we see:

    • the way contact with rich people makes him dissatisfied.
    • how coming into money makes him shallow and selfish, and unhappy.
    • how trying to find love with a beautiful, yet cruel, girl makes him unhappy - the plain, good girl would have been better.
    • how disappointments change his character for the better.
    • how Pip is happier when he settles down to a decent living through hard work - this is one of the main messages of the novel.

Back to Great Expectations index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.