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Teaching Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

Have fun teaching Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It's possible.

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    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: Summary

    Philip Pirrip, better known as Pip, meets Miss Havisham's spoiled, heartless, beautiful daughter and realizes the life of a blacksmith could never bring him happiness. Pip dreams of being a gentleman in order to win Estella. His dreams come true as a mysterious benefactor leaves Pip a large sum of money and the promise of property at a future date.

    Pip becomes a gentleman and a snob, scorning his boyhood guardian and only friend, Joe. Pip soon realizes that being a gentleman is not all it's cracked up to be. Pip's plans for winning Estella's heart are thwarted with the arrival of the man who haunted his boyhood. He learns, too late, the truth of Estella and that he has given up something of great value for something that's worthless.

    Great Expectations contains some of literature's most famous characters--Pip and Miss Havisham. It endures because of its timeless themes and Dickens' uncanny ability to create humor, suspense, and endearing characters.

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    Literary Merit

    An analysis of Great Expectations offers great teaching opportunities. Dickens expertly uses the following literary devices, many of which are unique to his works. When teaching the novel, your analysis should cover the following stylistic devices:

    1. alliteration
    2. asyndeton
    3. metaphor
    4. simile
    5. hyperbole
    6. anaphora
    7. parallelism
    8. polysyndeton
    9. epistrophe
    10. antithesis

    For a complete explanation of these terms, check out the Great Expectations by Charles Dickens Study Guide, which includes chapter summaries, important quotes, and an analysis.

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    Teachability

    Dickens' style is difficult for young readers and is probably only appropriate for upper level high school classes. The following suggestions will make the experience better:

    1. Read the abridged version. Some text books still contain the abridged version of Great Expectations. If not, it can be purchased online at any reputable online bookstore.
    2. Listen to the audio cd as you read. Both the unabridged and abridged cds are available at audible.com.
    3. Assign parts for in class reading. Great Expectations contains a lot of dialogue. Having different students read different parts makes it more interesting and fun.
    4. Give assignments that force students to recognize Dickens' humor and style. The following lesson plans in this series work well.
    5. Give yourself enough time to complete the novel. Don't rush through it.
    6. Show appropriate spoofs of the novel, for example, The Simpsons.
    7. Use Technology or try a Charles Dickens' webhunt.