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Excerpt from:  “Values and Meaning in Great Expectations:  The Two Endings Revisited,” Essays in Criticism XIX.4 (October, 1969):  402-9.


. . . . Pip's maturity is not a romantic or glamourised occurrence. Significantly, Pip's final assumption of the supreme values and virtues of this novel lie not in the formulaic happy reversal of a betrayed or downtrodden young nobleman's fortunes. There is no sunshiny heroism here; Pip does not emerge as the conventional romantic victor. His past is not meant to be dismissed as the conventional dark midnight before the inevitable dawning of the happy ending, nor does his conclusion include a crescendo of triumphs over all the foes who formerly humiliated him. Pip eventually owes his life, for example, to that tormentor, Trabb's boy, who leads Pip's rescuers across the marshes; and in the eyes of the community he is still an ingrate to Pumblechook, who maintains his pose as the spurned founder of the young man's once-great expectations. Even Orlick's final undoing is brought about by no supremacy of Pip's. Pip never becomes a public hero, and nowhere does Dickens imply that his future will be trouble-free because he has learned a few pious lessons. Pip ends up not materially improved, but morally improved, and this change is accompanied by strong buffetings that leave permanent impressions on his soul, just as the burns on his arm and hand leave permanent scars on his flesh.

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. . . . No longer a parasite, Pip has found the means to a satisfying, if not conventionally happy, life in the fulfillment of duty and the company of friends. As they talk, Pip and Estella are standing amid the rubble and decay of old Satis House, which is surely a more emotionally charged and symbolically significant setting for a final encounter than a neutral London street. Satis House is the supreme symbol of suffering carried to complete and bitter annihilation. What more appropriate place to have Pip and Estella form a union that promises a new interpretation of suffering, suffering as the foundation for a new life that will be based not on bitterness and hate, but on mutual respect and love?


If the revised ending embodies Dickens's final assertion that life can possess meaning and fulfillment, then it is clear that suffering and human values possess not only punitive, but redemptive, power. The road to salvation in a disordered, cold, and materialistic world is arduous, but not impossible. Mistakes are not immutable; despair is not final. The greatest sin in Dickens's hierarchy is heartlessness, whether expressed as ingratitude, disloyalty, snobbery, or mere apathy. People must care not only about themselves, but about one another. If suffering is redemptive, so is love—not blind suffering but suffering that accompanies growing vision, and not self-love, but love that reaches out to heal old wounds and create fresh life out of old disasters. As Pip and Estella walk away from the ruins of old Satis House, we see rising from the ashes of old failures, old disappointments, and burned-out great expectations a new life, not wide-eyed and innocent, but sober and experienced, capable of fully appreciating its second chance of fulfillment.