Pip starts out as many children in Charles Dickens do—poor and stifled by adults and circumstance. The beautiful Estella is everything that is unattainable for someone of Pip’s station, but his poverty and Estella’s affluence are inextricably intertwined, and Pip spends the rest of his life trying to prove himself to her. There is no reconciliation of the imperatives of romantic love and social justice—there is no learning to love someone for whom he or she is in the clichéd, contemporary sense, as inner reality and material wealth are shown to be tragically and inextricably intertwined, though totally, heart achingly separate. No wonder Dickens was one of Karl Marx’s favorite writers. Despite Estella’s cruelty, Pip isn’t able to overcome his love for her beatific, gilded vision. But unlike Marx, caught up within his Utopian, communist project, Dickens documents individual experience, individual suffering, and individual catharsis and growth within a hopelessly flawed world: a world that is perhaps beautiful and noble because of its flaws. He doesn’t create a simple recipe for change or suggest that change can be foisted on the entirety of human nature. After reading his earlier works, you get the sense that he could have become that sort of man. But he never does, and this is his triumph.
An absorbing mystery as well as a morality tale, the story of Pip, a poor village lad, and his expectations of wealth is Dickens at his most deliciously readable. The cast of characters includes kindly Joe Gargery, the loyal convict Abel Magwitch and the haunting Miss Havisham. If you have heartstrings, count on them being tugged.