Customer Review

83 of 104 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars True Confessions of a High School Teacher, April 27, 2006
This review is from: Great Expectations (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I've taught this book in 9th grade for years because it is a curriculum requirement. During that time, I have raved about the incredible abilities of Dickens to create memorable characters, plot fascinating fiction, make the lives of ordinary people in England memorable, write incredibly descriptive passages . . . .

The time has come to tell the truth. While it may be a great *work of literature*, Great Expectations is a tough book to like.

There is much to appreciate - in the intellectual sense of the word - about GE, from carefully drawn characters to an infinitely detailed plot. Without exception, students love to play *connect the characters* as the novel progresses. They discuss the unrequited love between Pip and Estella, Biddy and Pip - they love the relationship between Joe and Pip. They are fascinated and repulsed by Miss Havisham and her house. They are shocked by Magwitch, and enthralled by his sacrifice. Truly, this has all the makings of a 9th grade *hit*! So what's the problem? Language,length, and format.

The language is off-putting. So much is colloquial to the time and difficult to bring current. Joe's dialect (along with the convict's) is VERY difficult for my deep south students to imitate when reading aloud, and sometimes even difficult for them to decipher at all. Sentences can go on (and on and on and on and on) so that the end hardly seems connected to the beginning. While common when Dickens was writing, these patterns are a bit difficult for a modern audience.

Length and format are a problem that go together. Originally published as a serial, this novel was presented a chapter or two at a time, with a wait between installments. That allowed a reader to digest the events in a chapter, contemplate the relationships, discuss them with friends and build up anticipation for the next installment. By virtue of that style, many side-stories are included that have little bearing on the overall plot. Likewise, there is much detail included that seems almost irrelevant when one is reading the novel in full. Those are the very things that fostered interest in the serial, and yet in a novel, they seem extraneous and confusing. At the end, the novel seems (just a bit) overwritten (and perhaps that is because it wasn't originally a novel).

In summary, my feelings about this novel are mixed. The story itself is fascinating, but I find myself eternally dreading that time of year when I will yet again introduce it to another crop of unsuspecting students . . .
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 14 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 29, 2009 5:46:18 PM PST
Cayley says:
I speak as a previous high school student who had to muster trough this book in my Freshman year. While I have since read, and liked other Dickens works, this novel will forever be cemented in my mind as one of my least favorite books I've ever read for the reason listed above.

Posted on Jun 26, 2009 7:14:27 AM PDT
Joel Tunnah says:
Alesha, you seem to be saying that we should strip any book out of the curriculum that's not written in comtemporary slang, and easily digested.
You have a very low opinion of your students' abilities. High school kids are quite capable of reading a 'long' book, with many plot twists, and written in non-contemporary english. I enjoyed Romeo and Juliet immensely as a HS junior, among other 'hard' literature.
Luckily, I think your opinion is in the minority among English teachers. Or at least I hope it is.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 1, 2010 11:44:57 AM PST
You are wrong on both counts. There are plenty of examples of literature that have incredibly difficult language and yet ARE accessible students. The same students who despise *Great Expectations* adore *Romeo and Juliet* (which I teach without any form of modern translation - they read it in its original language and love it). They even like the portions of *A Tale of Two Cities* that I teach. The point is not that Dickens' work is not worthy of study, but rather that when it is introduced too early and in the wrong context, you are breeding a hatred for it.

If I were teaching juniors, *Great Expectations* would be within their grasp; however, for the majority of high school freshmen, the inner turmoil that Pip experiences is lost in length and language that they cannot grasp. And as a result, they despise all things Dickens.

Posted on Jan 29, 2010 5:25:10 PM PST
Dave says:
Thank God for your review, God bless you! I now realize I'm not crazy! I had to read this book in 9th grade English (1980...) and it was awful. So was the teacher, but that's another story. I ended up borrowing a copy of someone's Cliff's Notes and that's probably how I survived. To a 14 year old, that book was murder!! As an adult, I've come to appreciate things much more now, like history and literature. I've toyed with the idea of going back and re-reading GE, but for now, I'm watching the 1946 movie. If I make it through the movie, MAYBE I'll try the book. Or maybe I'll just read Tale of Two Cities!

Posted on Sep 25, 2010 9:56:20 AM PDT
the problem with this review is that it assumes that the book SHOULD be given to average 14 and 15 year old students. and it shouldn't. the fact that it's not appropriate for this demographic does not form any basis for criticizing the book. instead this reviewer should, in my opinion, be writing criticisms of the people who create this silly curriculum---which, perhaps, she already is doing.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 25, 2010 10:40:48 AM PDT
Actually, I completely disagree with assigning this book to 9th grades (English I Students). On so many levels, it's a terrible choice. No one would dream of assigning *The Scarlet Letter* to a 9th grader, and yet because Pip is a young man at the beginning of the novel, it is deemed an appropriate choice? (Technically that's not even true. He is a much older man remembering his youth.)

Great Expectations is undoubtedly a classic worthy of study; sadly, anyone upon whom it is "foisted" in 9th grade will probably hate it, and therefore miss all of the value it has to offer. For reasons that are - to me, at any rate - entirely unclear, I seem to be one of the few in my profession who is willing to admit this fact.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 11, 2011 3:26:47 PM PST
AGinNYC says:
The children who are reading this book are typical, unfortunate products of the conveyor belt education of today and have a problem digesting anything that pushes their thinking beyond it's comfort zone. That has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 11, 2011 5:38:27 PM PST
I would actually disagree with this point of view. No one is arguing the quality of writing. I AM arguing quite rigorously that GE does NOT belong in a 9th grade (or 10th-11th) grade curriculum. This certainly wasn't Dickens target audience for his serialized novel. The fact that Pip is a adolescent during the mid-section of the novel does not necessarily mean that adolescents can understand this complex story and its themes. It's akin to teaching *The Scarlet Letter* in kindergarten because Pearl is a toddler during the bulk of the novel. Students of today are not universally stupid and can quite capably push beyond their comfort zone, but if you push them into this sort of material too quickly, they will hate it permanently.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2011 9:50:08 AM PST
AGinNYC says:
Alesha,
I urge you to re-read your post. You place astericks around work of literature implying that in your opinion it may not be. You also criticize the language, length and format and you do so from your own perspective, not that of your students.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2011 1:26:23 PM PST
I did as you suggested. The asterisks are used as a form of emphasis, not as a denotation of sarcasm. Notice that the title of the novel is also punctuated in a like manner, since italics are not available in this format. My comments concerning the length, language, and format of the novel are prefaced by a paragraph that questions why Great Expectations, with its plot twists and turns, love triangle, and memorable characters, is not a 9th grade hit. The two paragraphs following quite clearly address that question, not the novel's merit. There is nothing in this review to disparage Charles Dickens or the merit of Great Expectations. There is plenty to disparage those who decided it was appropriate for high school freshmen, and that is intentional on my part.
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