By Alex Andy Phuong
A boy named Pip had once realized that, “In attempting to become a gentleman, I had succeeded in becoming a snob.” That character is the anti-hero in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Studying that novel was a huge burden on me for more than just its sheer length. I encountered difficulty while reading it because I saw a lot of myself in Pip. Over time, though, I feel like I did achieve my own great expectations, much like how Pip learned to accept his own station in life within this classic example of a bildungsroman.
I empathized with Pip, and saw parallels between his fictional life and my own bleak reality. For example, his pursuit of Estella reminds me of how I attempted to form friendships with people who will never be my friends realistically. Specifically, Pip admires Estella not just because of her beauty, but for how she symbolizes the world of the aristocracy that Pip hoped to be a part of in order for him to pursue a woman that he loves. I know that I had pushed myself in the past to achieve great expectations that I had supposedly thought would satisfy my desire for more. For example, I struggled throughout high school as I attempted to pursue higher education at prestigious universities, such as the University of California—Santa Barbara. I grew jealous of high school classmates who received acceptance letters from multiple universities while I was rejected from five major universities within the UC system. Additionally, I tried to be friends with people who ranked higher than I did in my high school graduating class academically even though they would never understand the beauty of my soul. Ultimately, I had to realize that just because I know people does not mean that they would ever become quality friends. I have met a lot of acquaintances in my life, but have only one or two true friendships so far in my life.
As time passed, I had to realize that the pursuit of happiness results in anything but happiness. I had previously established high standards for myself that were sometimes unrealistic, and usually provided no happiness at all. For example, when I was a student at Pasadena City College, I wanted to graduate summa cum laude. I was heavily disappointed with the fact that I did not achieve that particular academic honor. However, I had to learn that such honors are actually frivolous. Then one day, a wise professor taught me that the whole purpose of going to school is not to wear sumptuous sashes at graduation ceremonies. The reason why people attend school is simply to learn. I simultaneously experienced the epiphany that Pip experienced when he realized that the aristocracy is hypocritical. My pursuit of what I believed to be great expectations were actually not that great after all.
After studying Pip’s personal journey in an English class, I learned the significance of the title Great Expectations. A classmate commented that achieving human dignity is the theme that Charles Dickens wants to convey. I am grateful for that critical analysis of the title because I now feel like that I am slowly achieving that great expectation. Ultimately, honors do not define a man. Action does!
Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. He was a former Statement Magazine editor who currently writes about literature, film, and culture. He has written film reviews for more than one hundred motion pictures for MovieBoozer, and his writing has appeared both online and in print. Alex is a writer who dares to support the ones who pursue their dreams