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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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According to Dictionary.com, there are at least six definitions of the word ‘heart’ that do not apply specifically to biological functions, but rather to an individual’s personal makeup. These definitions refer to the center of personality, the center of emotion, an individual’s capacity for sympathy and affection, a person’s spirit or courage, the central part, the vital or essential part, and the breast or bosom. In order to explore the various ways in which this multi-dimensional term can be used, Dickens introduces a host of characters to illustrate not only the differences, but the difficulties faced when one tries to change one’s fundamental nature, or heart, to become something more socially acceptable. Dickens explores the various uses of heart and the attempts to change them through the characters of Pip, Joe Gargery, Mrs. Joe, Estella, and Miss Havisham.

As the main character, and the one through whom the entire story is experienced, Pip is the study of a heart developing as it is defined above. He shows himself to be an uncommonly sensitive child right from the beginning of the novel, in which his reflections upon his parents and siblings tombstones give him an impression of the family he never knew that is actually quite insightful: “I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence” (11). He is also shown to be quite quickly afraid, first describing himself as “the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry” (12). While he makes the decision to bring food and a file to the criminal he meets in the marsh, eventually known as Abel Magwitch, out of sheer terror regarding what might happen if he doesn’t, Pip also has the capacity to pity the man’s situation and to be concerned about the man’s supposed companion who had&nbsp.previously been used to help instill terror in the boy.