Link Essay – Great Expectations & to Kill a Mockingbird Compared Using Structure

Comparison of the book Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird using structure as a literary element. My own work. Please do not copy without citing! Thanks.

            Harper Lee and Charles Dickens emphasize the theme; past actions can greatly impact one’s present and future, in their novels, Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird, by structuring their work in certain ways. The authors design their novels in such a way that the parts are organized and they prove that the theme is legitimate. In the two novels, the main characters grow from children to mature young adults by dealing with the many circumstances in their lives the best they could. The parts in the books emphasize stages of maturity or life in the main characters of the novels. The chapters partition the various events in the books. The parts and chapters in the stories keep the writing organized and the chapters build onto previous chapters to support the theme. This emphasizes the importance of each individual section of the books. Both Harper Lee and Charles Dickens write their books in a reflective, or nostalgic, tone. Thus, they think the past is important enough to write about and learn from. As Slater, a journal writer, writes, “Dickens put his own life, as well as his social concerns, into his works,” (256). This means that Charles Dickens incorporated some of his life into Great Expectations and built upon it to highlight the theme.

            To emphasize their themes, the authors make their stories cumulative. The main characters’ actions from preceding chapters affect them throughout the books. In Great Expectations, after Pip’s fight with Herbert, Chapter 11 ends with him walking towards his house. Then, Pip narrates, “My mind grew very uneasy on the subject of the pale young gentleman” (Dickens 98) at the very beginning of Chapter 12. Chapter 12 of Great Expectations is heavily influenced by the previous chapters’ events because Pip is extremely nervous that his illegal deeds will make Miss Havisham angry. Therefore, he acts differently due to the guilt’s weight on him. So that one event changed the next chapter. Then, that chapter may have caused Miss Havisham to be curious about Pip and his peculiar behavior and question his loyalty, which can influence the preceding chapters and create a domino effect. Another example of this is Pip’s decisions throughout Great Expectations. If he hadn’t chosen to become a gentleman, then he never would have met Herbert, and if he hadn’t met Herbert, then he never would have ended up living with him. Also, the chapters in both books have very smooth transitions between them due to influences of previous chapters. Throughout Great Expectations, Pip encounters ups and downs and learns valuable lessons along the way (Spindle 17). These lessons must impact his future positively to be worthwhile. At the end of chapter four of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout is rolled onto Boo Radley’s house in a tire pushed by Jem when she hears laughing. At the beginning of chapter five, she narrates about how she finally convinced Jem to stop playing the “Boo Radley” game (Lee 41). This proves that the previous chapter affected the book later on.

            Both To Kill a Mockingbird and Great Expectations are partitioned by parts. These parts bookmark the stages of maturity in the main characters’ lives in the books. In Great Expectations, these parts are known as the stages of Pip’s expectations, while in To Kill a Mockingbird, they are simply marked as parts. This structure relates to the theme, that past actions can greatly impact one’s present and future, because the parts in both books represent a time of change in the main characters’ lives. A time of enlightenment. This change symbolizes that there is no going back, and what is done is done. In Harper’s Lee’s novel, she ends the first part with Mrs. Dubose’s death. This is significant because Scout learns from Mrs. Dubose and begins making more mature judgments of others. Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose was a morphine addict and she wanted to die free; therefore, she tried to break her habit and was stressed out due to withdrawal. Thus, Scout learns not to judge people before getting to know them thoroughly.  This lesson impacts Scout’s way of looking at people and segregation throughout the remainder of the book. At the end of Chapter 19 in Great Expectations, ends the first stage of Pip’s expectations. In the transition into Part II, Pip gets ready to leave his house to go to London. It is a huge time of change and growing sophistication in his life. He must begin to fend for himself without Joe’s support for the first time in his life. Pip has to learn to adapt to London life and try to win over Estella’s heart. There is no going back for Pip.

            The paragraphs in Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird have great transitions between them. This works out nicely in the two novels because the paragraphs are all interrelated and they flow with each other making the transitions smooth. This signifies that the past changes the future because if a paragraph states something, then the following paragraph will be closely related to what the previous paragraph stated. Also, the paragraphs in both works are separated solely by dialect and some rare topic changes signifying that the stories are very fast paced. The chapter length also helps supports this because both books are made up of very long paragraphs that just keep going until they hit dialect or the end of a chapter. During pages 490 to 500 of Great Expectations, weeks pass. The events in the novels are rarely separated by paragraphs. Therefore, there is a lack of change in events between paragraphs making the paragraphs even more interrelated. Also, it seems that the books are fast paced to the authors’ memory. One cannot remember everything that happened in the past.

            In Great Expectations, this fast paced structure is significant because it just flies through the book leaving the reader wondering why Pip is turning twenty three instead of fifteen. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout grows and matures at a great rate. From the beginning to the end of the book, Scout goes from childish and oblivious to caring and mature. She makes fair and mature decisions such as going to Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s house on her own free will to support her brother, Jem. It is almost as if the authors want to rush through the main characters’ childhoods to show the effect of their past events had upon the characters and how the reader can learn something from the novels. Pip’s childhood in Great Expectations is very short. The last time one could call him a child would be on page 170. Then, for the rest of the book, he is a young gentleman regretting and savoring childhood influences. Scout’s days of incompetence end at the end of the first part when she begins to “see the light”.

            Scout’s speech has a lot of slang in it due to her childhood influences and the story’s setting. Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird are both very dialect-based. The authors structured their novels this way because it emphasizes the difference between the language of the author’s tone and the dialect used by Scout as a young lady. This portrays the moral these stories are based off of. Harper Lee emphasizes the racism in the community throughout her childhood. She emphasized it so that the reader would understand how being in that type of society helped her stand up for the rights of others and understand the illegitimate reasons behind racism. She actually learned from her situation. In Great Expectations, Pip is raised in a small village where most people lead monotonous lives. When Pip leaves home to become a gentleman, he carries with him all of his childhood influences. He thinks differently due to these influences and, therefore, they shape the rest of his life. At the end of the book, Pip realizes that being a gentleman isn’t everything. He starts working hard for his living instead of relying on others for financial support. He was raised in a poor family and that is where he belongs because he just wasn’t made for London life. Pip becomes a new man at the end of the book. He starts to be more independent and acts more like himself. Although he regrets ever going to Miss Havisham’s in the first place and he realizes how precious the past is. Pip wishes he had never met Estella. However, there is nothing he can do about it now. So, he just learns from his mistakes and moves on with his life. But, whatever happens, the influence is still upon him.

            Structure changes the novels, Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird, in a way so that they worm similar morals into the readers’ minds to be remembered forever. The works emphasize how precious the past is by showing how it makes a colossal impact on the lives of Pip and Scout due to the domino effect. Influences from their childhoods stay with them forever. These impacts are either regretted or savored for the rest of the main characters’ lives. Although, there is nothing they can do about it except learn from it and move on. Charles Dickens and Harper Lee write similarly according to the concept of their writing. Bennett publishes in the Mississippi Quarterly, “In most compilations of essays, there is some inconsistency in the quality of writing and the originality of ideas,” (Bennett 429) another view of the similarities. Others think that the authors know from experience something that they want to pass on to the world by structuring the chapters, parts, and the paragraphs of their novels to portray the importance of the past.


Spindle, Les. “CHARLES DICKENS’ GREAT EXPECTATIONS: at A Noise Within.” Back Stage, National ed. 18 Nov. 2010: 17+. General OneFile. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

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Slater. “Charles Dickens.” Contemporary Review 292.1697 (2010): 256+. General OneFile. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

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Dickens, Charles. “Great Expectations”. With Connections. London: Penguin, 1996. 98. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philidelphia: J.B. Lipincott Company, 1960. 41. Print.

Bennett, Barbara. “On Harper Lee: Essays and Reflections.” The Mississippi Quarterly 60.2 (2007): 429+. General OneFile. Web. 21 Mar. 2011.

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