2019 marks a fresh new chapter in our lives as we grow into young adults. A new year with new responsibilities, new friends, new goals and new expectations – there is just so much that we can and should explore. Yet before we can begin exploring, we need to look back and review our past, ponder upon past experiences we’ve had, the friends we’ve made, and perhaps even the books we’ve read… As we look at the theme of Beginnings, there are no better tales than those by the famous Charles Dickens, who reminds us that behind every corner, great expectations await us…but not before a twist of fate.
In this article, we will look back on two of Charles Dickens’ most popular works: Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Both stories are part of the Bildungsroman genre, coming-of-age stories that greatly resemble our transition from adolescence to adulthood. Oliver Twist tells the gripping tale of a boy navigating his way through a world of corruption and temptations, while Great Expectations details the tribulations faced by a boy in his quest to be a gentleman. In a world of rapid changes and volatility, these stories serve as a timely reminder that just as we would certainly encounter difficulties in school – like adapting to the new school year – it is only necessary that we learn to circumvent and overcome these challenges.
In the enchanting tale of Oliver Twist, the story begins in a small workhouse where little Oliver is born. Wrapped in a blanket which enveloped him entirely, he might have been the child of a nobleman or beggar and it would have been hard for anyone to assign him his proper place in society. Yet as old calico robes are donned on young Oliver, he falls into his place at once; an orphan of the workhouse, to be despised by all and pitied by none. After several months of living in the impoverished condition with the most meager of food and drink in the orphanage, Oliver becomes of age and is dispatched to start work. Entrapped in this vicious cycle of hardship and misery, it became clear to Oliver that he has to come up with something to change his deplorable state of living, and thus the novel’s most iconic line was uttered: “Oliver Twist has asked for more!” Sorely punished for his insubordination, Oliver manages a harrowing escape, finding himself at the beginning of a new journey to the dazzling capital of London. In his long and arduous walk, he encounters numerous quirky and fantastic characters, one of which is the Artful Dodger, who offers Oliver a sanctuary in London in exchange for his services to his master, the crooked Fagin. Oliver finds himself spiralling down into a world of crime as the Dodger and Fagin wittingly coax him to learn the artful craft of pickpocketing. In a dramatic escalation of events, the Dodger finds himself behind bars for a murder committed amongst Oliver’s associates while Oliver is flung into a mad flurry of events as he attempts to break free from the iron grip of Fagin. In a transcendent effort alongside several allies, Oliver finds himself free to live as he wishes again, marking the beginning of a new chapter of his life.
In Great Expectations, the young protagonist Pip becomes besotted with the cold and entrancing Estella, and becomes increasingly disillusioned with the simple raw vigour of his life at the ranch with his blacksmith uncle Joe. Pip immediately pounces on the opportunity to be sent to London to learn the ways of genteelry to become worthy of Estella after a mysterious benefactor offers to fund his education, but is enveloped by sadness and guilt after realising that he has shunned the simpler things in life that have supported him – his uncle Joe, his sister and his good childhood friend Biddy. In a final twist of events, it is revealed that his benefactor is in fact an escaped criminal whom he has helped as a child. Pip’s world crumbles; the enchanted life of a gentleman he has been leading rests unsteadily on a fountain of laundered money, his entire life is reduced to a materialistic and vain illusion, and the simple goodness and kindness of his family and friends he previously rejected have all been betrayed in favour of a depraved and convicted felon.
Dickens’ tale reminds us to be constantly grateful to the teachers, friends and family who have supported us unswervingly. Even as we achieve, it is important for us to attribute success to those who have been with us through difficult times. While we look back on our past achievements (stellar ‘O’ level results, Promotional Exams etc), we should not be blinded by results and outcomes lest we neglect the people who truly matter and forget the things they have done for us that enabled us to come so far.
So as the new school year opens and lessons start rolling out, take a deep breath – think of all the mountains you have climbed with the people beside you, and all the others you will continue to conquer. Life is unpredictable, filled with endless twists and turns, and we may be constantly riddled with the demand of great expectations. But if there is anything Dickens meant for us to learn, it is that if we forge onwards despite the bout of trials and temptations, we will find beauty and great success at the end of the road.
Xiang Le 18S43
Xavier Loh 18S43
Jasper Yeo 18S47
Ernest Yong 18S43