Charles Dicken's Great Expectations: the Joes and Herberts of our lives

I READ Charles Dickens for comfort. His writing is simple, his plots are straightforward, and his characters jump out of the page, making indelible marks in my memory, and occupying familiar, cozy spots in my heart.

David Copperfield, the first Dickens novel I read, took me at least five months to finish. In the middle parts I found it dragging, but it was a fine work of literature. Through it all I was rooting for David to succeed in life. It was as if I had won the lottery when he finally realized he loved Agnes, after all, and married her!

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I had great expectations when I read Great Expectations, one of Charles Dickens's most loved novels. My friend Anjo recommended it highly. When I saw a Barnes and Noble copy in my usual book sale haunt I did not hesitate to buy it. I brought it with me while I was finishing the patient census at Ward 3, earning the curiosity of everyone who had seen me schlepping it along.

Great Expectations is the story of Pip, an orphan who lives with his sister who is often mean to him. Her sister's husband, the blacksmith Joe Gargery, is his best friend. 

One day Pip receives the news that an anonymous benefactor has bestowed upon him great riches, the only condition being that he should not inquire or attempt to find out who this benefactor is. 

Money changes many things. Pip leaves the countryside, goes to London, and continues his adventures there. He attends parties, visits rich households, joins exclusive clubs, and eats lavish food. He soon forgets his friends, especially Joe, and grows ashamed of them. 

You've already predicted how the story goes: Pip's riches vanish in an instant. But his friends stay true to him even to the end. 

The novel has many themes—the folly and fleeting usefulness of money, the importance of finding one's perfect partner—but that of keeping loyal friends through thick and thin is easily the most notable of all. 

Joe Gargery and Herbert Pocket—they've remained Pip's good friends. Charles Dickens has excelled in creating their characters. Both are imperfect creatures, for Joe is unlearned and Herbert is bad at managing money (or so we are led to think). But in Joe we see a devoted husband, a hardworker, content with who he is and what he does because he loves it so. Herbert is the supportive roommate who gives advice when it is necessary but never shoves it down one's throat.

After finishing the book early this morning I remembered how God has been good to me in giving me friends—many of them wiser and more mature than me. That there are Joes and Herberts in my life is enough to remind me that I own something very precious, as well. Do I deserve my friends? I think not. And yet I have them. For that I'm eternally grateful.

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