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If a person ignores the connections with the classic Dickens novel, Great Expectations as a theme is a fitting and positive projection for the future hopes of East Stroudsburg University.
Anyone who has read the novel, however, should realize that the allusion comes with a dangerous set of themes.
In order to understand my argument, you must first understand the plot of the novel.
“Great Expectations” is about a boy named Pip, who through some peculiar circumstances, comes into great wealth via a mysterious benefactor. Pip lives with his sister and her blacksmith husband.
Early on in the novel, while out in the marshy cemetery, Pip feeds a desperate convict. The convict is recaptured and deported.
Later, it is arranged for Pip to play with Estella, the adopted daughter of a wealthy woman, Miss Havisham.
Miss Havisham had been deserted on her wedding day many years prior. She hides away in her mansion, still decorated for the wedding (decaying cake and all), and basks in a filthy, yellowed wedding dress and a single shoe.
Miss Havisham’s purpose for allowing Pip, born of a lower class, to play with Estella is to make him helplessly fall in love with her, so that Estella can continuously break his heart.
But there is hope. Pip is saved from his daunting prospects when a secret benefactor offers to fund his education and finance an upper-class, gentleman’s lifestyle.
Everyone has great expectations for Pip, and Pip has great expectations himself.
But great expectations do not always result in great ends. During the novel, Pip’s sister is assaulted and suffers debilitating mental trauma. She dies years later.
The benefactor turns out to be the convict, who, after making a fortune overseas, felt indebted to Pip. He is caught trying to meet Pip back in England and is sentenced to death. He dies of natural causes while incarcerated.
Miss Havisham, after realizing that she crushed Pip like her fiancé crushed her, apologizes. After repenting, her dress catches fire and she dies of burn wounds.
Pip loses his wealth due to his own arrogance; he never took the convict’s wealth for his own. He is left without his fortune and loveless, at least, in the novel’s first ending.
Though I have not read the novel since ninth grade, and I am no literary expert, the many themes of “Great Expectations” are inappropriate as a theme for the inauguration.
I request some crowd participation.
Type “themes of Great Expectations” into your Google search bar. Click on the first link (it will be SparkNotes). Read a paragraph into the page, specifically the first theme listed: “ambition and self-improvement.”
Next, find President Welsh’s Inauguration page. The first description of the theme begins, “Great Expectations, the classic Charles Dickens novel about ambition and self-improvement may be a commentary on early Victorian England, but its theme rings true today at East Stroudsburg University as we celebrate the Inauguration of Dr. Marcia G. Welsh the week of April 1-6, 2013.”
I could be over-thinking this, but it looks as though whoever wrote that tidbit on the theme (one of many themes of the book, mind you) used a simple Google search to write about the novel.
Ambition and self-improvement could be swung to fit, because this is a legitimate theme of the novel. It is not the most pronounced, but it is a theme.
Excessive ambition is what leads many characters to unhappy fates. Because Pip keeps convincing himself that he could be with Estella, he keeps setting himself up for failure.
Self-improvements are made after times of great turmoil, and the characters that do repent and improve only do so after suffering, and even facing death.
This is not my hope for the future of ESU.
The novel was so crude and disheartening that Dickens revised the ending (after he received criticism). In this second ending, it at least can be interpreted Estella and Pip end up together.
Despite this excuse, one cannot simply ignore the great hardships faced in order to get to this point, and the number of great expectations that are not achieved and lead characters to painful failures.
But as Dr. Welsh’s inauguration website says, “Great Expectations speaks with many voices.”
Great Expectations, seperate from the implications that come with the novel, is appropriate as the Inauguration theme. It was only after making the connection with the novel that this theme took on implications no one intended it to have.
On a final note, I will admit that this novel can be interpreted in many different ways, as all literary works are interpreted subjectively. Regardless of the role subjectivity plays, ignoring the majority of the novel’s themes and attaching one cherry-picked theme is no way to promote excellence at a university.
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