Great expectations – are they a good idea?

In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations Pip, a boy of humble origins, steadily grows into a man of great ambition. But is he the happier man? Or is it the unsophisticated and uneducated Joe who’s happiest? -the partner of his sister, who raised him. It’s often said that Dickens dedicated his works to railing against social injustices and inequalities.

But he was also playing with philosophical concepts, and obviously societal ones. We instinctively want the ambitious, lowly born person to do well. But should we not also question the ambition, as does Dickens? We teach people that having great expectations is a good thing. Sometimes we even go so far as to praise avariciousness, though we rarely call it by that name. But should we? Are great expectations always good? Or would it be a better thing to teach our young to be content with what they already have?

One comment

  • It would make for a less envious world if we were all content with what we have, but it would also likely mean that inequality remains or even increases.

    I think it is a decision that is personal to each and requires maturity to make. Striving to hard for betterment may cause undue misery, but accepting a poor lot in life is likely to stick you with all the worst statistical outcomes suffered b the lower socio-economic groups, i.e. shorter life expectancy, more marriage breakups, etc,.

    I agree that it does seem to be the acclaimed way to live your life, “reaching for the stars” and all that, and this should be tempered with more mature teachings and examples, rather than the character who overcame the odds and succeeded.

    The problem with telling stories about other heroes, or as John Lennon put it, “working class” heroes, is that most working class people aren’t living the good life of contentment.

    It might even be a catch-22 situation, unless we can attain a buddha like zen of calm and gratefulness of what we actually do have, and the period we have it for.

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