Charles Dickens Great Expectations Essay Questions

The 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions focus on varying themes and are each structured differently. For an overview of the three prompt types that you may encounter, read The Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs. Here we discuss the third FRQ prompt which allows you to choose a particular work of literature as the focus of your essay.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is a well-known classic novel. Herein we will discuss how to determine if the given prompt is appropriate for this particular literary work and give you an idea of what to review before your exam.

Great Expectations Themes for AP English Literature

To choose a literary work to answer your prompt, it’s important to examine the themes which are outlined in the assigned essay. If the theme is not relevant or well established in a work, you will do well to choose another title to examine. The following are the main themes which you may discuss in your Great Expectations AP English Lit Essay.

Ambition and Self Improvement are the main themes of this classic story. Dickens teaches Pip lessons about the importance of loyalty, affection and social conscience by allowing his pursuit of the opposite. Throughout the story, his pursuit of wealth and a higher social class is punctuated by failures and a greater understanding of life’s most important factors.

Social Classes are another prevalent theme explored throughout the book. The characters and story are based in the post-Industrial Revolution Victorian England. This chosen backdrop influences Dickens’ portrayal of everyone from the lowest caste to the wealthiest of families. He connects wealth with work and improvement of one’s self. This is why even the richest characters portrayed have achieved station based on success in business.

Innocence and Guilt are intertwined themes represented throughout the book by convicts and lawyers alike. Dickens allows Pip to learn that often we must trust our instincts about people and not judge them based on society’s standards.

How to use Great Expectations for the 2017 AP English Literature Free Response Questions

Great Expectations is a well-known literary work, with which you should be familiar. It may well be a viable choice for the AP English Lit free response question. However, that is dependent on the question. Each year the 3rd FRQ is different, and the CollegeBoard supplies a list of suggested books to reference for your essay. The absence of a book from the list does not disqualify it from use, that being said; it’s important to know how to choose which book to use for the given analysis.

In preparation for your exam, it’s a good idea to read previous years’ free response questions posted on CollegeBoard. The following review is for the 2016 FRQ prompt.

2016 FRQ 3: Many works of literature contain a character who intentionally deceives others. The character’s dishonesty may be intended to either help or hurt. Such a character, for example, may choose to mislead others for personal safety, to spare someone’s feelings, or to carry out a crime.

Choose a novel or play in which a character deceives others. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the motives for that character’s deception and discuss how the deception contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole.

While Great Expectations is not on the suggested list for this prompt, you may choose to use it. The theme of deception is represented by various characters in the story. However, the most prevalent one is probably Abel Magwitch, the convict. A thesis for this essay may look something like the following. In Great Expectations, the character of Abel Magwitch used deliberate anonymity to perpetrate deception on Pip to help him improve his station in life.

To support this thesis, you may point out that Magwitch is the only character who uses his earnings in what seems to be a selfless way. He is also the only truly self-made man, written by Dickens, in this story. Both of these characteristics are essential to the reasoning for his deception. Magwitch wanted Pip to become a gentleman and live a proper, wealthy life. He has to work hard to gain the money to drive this transformation while in Australia.

He could have made himself known from the start, but he thinks Pip is more likely to achieve these goals, without that knowledge. The following quote, from Chapter 2, shows that Magwitch sent all his gains for Pip.

“As I give’ you to understand just now, I’m famous for it. It was the money left me, and the gains of the first few year wot I sent home to Mr. Jaggers—all for you—when he first came after you, agreeable to my letter.”

Magwitch was born poor and could have easily used his fortune to improve his own life, as illustrated in the following quote from Chapter 42.

“I first become aware of myself, down in Essex, a thieving turnips for my living. Summun had run away from me—a man—a tinker—and he’d took the fire with him, and left me very cold.”

However, he remembered the help Pip had given him, years earlier, and dedicated himself to creating a gentleman. Later it becomes apparent that Magwitch feels he owns Pip for the support he bestowed upon him. This is outlined in the following quote from Chapter 39.

“He was a convict, a few year ago, and is an ignorant common fellow now, for all he’s lucky,’ what do I say? I say to myself, ‘If I ain’t a gentleman, nor yet ain’t got no learning, I’m the owner of such. All on you owns stock and land; which on you owns a brought-up London gentleman?”

To examine another possible use for Great Expectations on your 2017 English Lit Exam we will take a look at another prompt.

2015 FRQ 3: In literary works, cruelty often functions as a crucial motivation or a major social or political factor. Select a novel, play, or epic poem in which acts of cruelty are important to the theme. Then write a well-developed essay analyzing how cruelty functions in the work as a whole and what the cruelty reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim.

Great Expectations was on the provided list for this year’s prompt, with good reason. Cruelty is an underlying theme throughout the story. A possible thesis is as follows. In Great Expectations, the theme of cruelty is represented through both physical and psychological means of individuals and society.To elaborate on this thesis and explain what it reveals about the perpetrator and/or victim, you will need to choose your examples and expand upon them.

You can choose from Pip being abused by his sister and Miss Havisham. The abuse he undergoes at the hands of Estella and conversely the abuse suffered by Estella to make her into a weapon of destruction. Further options include the cruel deception played on Miss Havisham which resulted in her sick mind and victimization of others or the way society cruelly leaves the poor to fend for themselves and then punishes them for that necessity, as is the case with Magwitch’s childhood and later life.

For example,Pip undergoes cruelty at the heavy hand of his sister and the mental turmoil supplied by Miss Havisham. The way that Pip reacts to his abuse is indicative of a boy who doesn’t think he is worthy of better treatment. He not only undergoes physical harm from Mrs. Joe but also harms himself as a punishment for his weakness. Furthermore, when faced with disdain and rejection from Estella, thanks to the plans of Miss Havisham, he reacts by loving her more. Evidence for these statements can be found in the following quotes from chapters 8, 29, 29, 39, and 44 respectively.

My sister’s bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there’s nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter.” -Pip

“The unqualified truth is, that when I loved Estella with the love of a man, I loved her simply because I found her irresistible. Once for all; I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always, that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her nonetheless because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me, than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.” -Pip

“I have not bestowed my tenderness anywhere. I have never had any such thing.” -Estella

“Miss Havisham’s intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not designed for me; I only suffered in Satis House as a convenience, a sting for the greedy relations, a model with a mechanical heart to practise on when no other practice was at hand; those were the first smarts I had.” -Pip

“It would have been cruel in Miss Havisham, horribly cruel, to practice on the susceptibility of a poor boy, and to torture me through all these years with a vain hope and an idle pursuit, if she had reflected on the gravity of what she did. But I think she did not. I think that in the endurance of her own trial, she forgot mine, Estella.” – Pip

Classic literary works always have many themes, allowing for their use in a variety of prompt types. Let’s examine another free response question from a previous year. Again, Great Expectations was not on the suggested list. However, reading the theme and question, we can determine it is a viable choice.

2014 FRQ 3: It has often been said that what we value can be determined by what we sacrifice. Consider how this statement applies to a character from a novel or play. Select a character that has deliberately sacrificed, surrendered, or forfeited something in a way that highlights that character’s values. Then write a well-organized essay in which you analyze how the particular sacrifice illuminates the character’s values and provides a deeper understanding of the meaning of the work as a whole.

A thesis which could be supported for this prompt is as follows. In Great Expectations, the sacrifice of Joe to stay with Mrs. Joe, for the good of Pip, shows that he values the well-being of the boy above his own and informs the development of Pip’s own values.

To support this thesis, you could expound on the abuse Joe underwent from Mrs. Joe and the fact that he was always there for Pip, even when Pip was not appreciative. Furthermore, Joe’s love for Pip is intertwined with Dickens’ message to not judge people by social class or appearance, rather by who they are. The following quote, from Chapter 7, illustrates that Joe wanted to take Pip in after the death of his parents.

“I said to her, ‘And bring the poor little child. God bless the poor little child,’ I said to your sister, ‘there’s room for him at the forge!'” -Joe

In chapter 57, we see Joe again comes to rescue Pip.

“ I opened my eyes in the night, and I saw, in the great chair at the bedside, Joe. I opened my eyes in the day, and, sitting on the window-seat, smoking his pipe in the shaded open window, still I saw Joe. I asked for cooling drink, and the dear hand that gave it me was Joe’s. I sank back on my pillow after drinking, and the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon me was the face of Joe.”

“For the tenderness of Joe was so beautifully proportioned to my need, that I was like a child in his hands. He would sit and talk to me in the old confidence, and with the old simplicity, and in the old unassertive protecting way, so that I would half believe that all my life since the days of the old kitchen was one of the mental troubles of the fever that was gone.”

In conclusion, Great Expectations has many themes you may find helpful for the last Free Response Question on the AP English Literature Exam. When reading the prompt and deciding on what literary work to use for your essay, remember to choose a subject where the theme outlined in the given instructions is prevalent.

In the case of Great Expectations ambition, self-improvement, social classes, innocence, and guilt are a few of the more prominent themes discussed. However, as we saw with the 2016 prompt example, this story has many underlying themes which you may examine for your Great Expectations AP English Lit Essay.

For more help preparing for your AP English Literature exam we suggest you readThe Ultimate Guide to 2016 AP English Literature FRQs and The Ultimate Guide to 2015 AP English Literature FRQs. And, for writing advice for the AP English Lit free response questions, Albert.io’s AP English Literature section has practice free response sections with sample responses and rubrics.

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Chapter 1
1. Why is the first chapter so important?

2. Compare and contrast Pip and the first convict.

3. What examples of humor can be found in the first chapter?

4. Explain why the story is more interesting written in first person point of view.

Chapters 2 and 3
1. Explain how guilt has affected Pip’s life.

2. Define pun, and how it is used in these chapters.

3. Discuss the theme of right and wrong or good and evil.

4. How is the relationship between Pip and his sister different from the relationship between Pip and Joe.

Chapters 4 and 5
1. Describe the Christmas dinner from Pip’s point of view.

2. How are the attitudes of Pip and Joe toward the first convict similar? How does the convict’s behavior warrant some compassion?

3. What themes are beginning to emerge from these chapters?

Chapters 6 and 7
1. How does Dickens build suspense in his novel?

2. Explain how the bond between Pip and Joe becomes even stronger.

3. Describe Joe’s relationship with Pip and his relationship with his wife.

Chapters 8 and 9
1. How does Pip’s day at Miss Havisham’s change him forever?

2. Compare Miss Havisham and Satis House.

3. Describe Estella and her effect on Pip.

4. Relate examples of Joe’s goodness.

Chapters 10 and 11
1. Explain how Pip’s visit to Miss Havisham has affected him.

2. What does Dickens use to create suspense and interest in his novel?

3. Discuss Pip’s encounter with Miss Havisham’s relatives, and what were his impressions?

4. Explain how humor is used concerning Pip and the pale young gentleman?

Chapters 12 and 13
1. How has Pip changed? Give examples of his dissatisfaction concerning his life and his family.

2. Explain what being an apprentice means and how this affects Pip.

3. Write a character analysis of Uncle Pumblechook.

4. Describe the relationship between Joe and Mrs. Joe.

Chapters 14 and 15
1. Write a character sketch of Orlick.

2. Describe Pip’s return visit to see Miss Havisham.

3. Describe Joe and Pip’s relationship.

Chapters 16 and 17
1. Explain the relationship between Pip and Biddy.

2. Discuss the attack on Mrs. Joe and how it affected Pip.

3. Write a character sketch of Biddy.

Chapters 18 and 19
1. Explain the circumstances or coincidences that help make Pip believe Miss Havisham is his benefactor.

2. Discuss the first stage of Pip’s life. How can this stage be called one of innocence or childhood?

3. Discuss the two settings in the novel—that of Satis House and that of the forge with its marshes. What characters are associated with each, and how do they affect Pip?

Chapters 20 and 21
1. Discuss Pip’s impressions of London and give examples.

2. Describe Mr. Jaggers’ office and how it is representative of the lawyer.

Chapters 22 and...

(The entire section is 1382 words.)

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