Document Type

Junior Honorable Mention

Award Date

Spring 2014

Course Name

Victorian Fiction


Dr. Michael Hancock


Charles Dickens’ seminal classic Great Expectations has received widespread acclaim from many critics, including George Bernard Shaw and Algernon Charles Swinburne. Shaw, for instance, has lauded Great Expectations as Dickens’ “most compactly perfect book” (qtd. in Trotter vii), while Swinburne has gone so far as to call it his “last great work … the defects [of which] are as nearly imperceptible as spots on the sun or shadow on a sunlit sea” (qtd. in Trotter vii). Such praise sets the bar high for Great Expectations, inducing readers to expect of the novel great things, as it were. As it so happens, critics and the novel’s characters are not the only ones who construct and perpetuate such extraordinary promises. Indeed, in Great Expectations, Dickens himself employs an array of tactics, most notably character names, to set up such expectations. Throughout the work, names are used to communicate subliminal messages to the reader regarding aspects of the story which may not be immediately obvious. Specifically, in the cases of Mr. Jaggers and Estella, Dickens uses names to describe characters’ personalities, convey ulterior meanings, and color the plot with symbolism. Thus, names play an integral role in the story, ingeniously implanting ideas into the mind of the reader which serve to foreshadow the events to come.



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