In this essay I shall be trying to determine how Charles Dickens creates a world of violence and humour in the first four chapters of “Great Expectations.” “Great Expectations” was written by Charles Dickens in 1860, it was finally published in 1861, having first been serialised in newspapers.

The novel is about a boy named Philip who became known as Pip. He dreams of becoming a gentleman and he becomes one. Throughout the book Pip grows up from being a shallow less boy, to a man of full depth of character.

The book is written as a first person narrative. Dickens audience followed his development in weekly episodes by reading the newspapers. The weekly serialisation of ‘Dickens’ book gave him a regular audience. Throughout ‘Great Expectations’ ‘Dickens’ explores such themes as social class, justice, hierarchy, truthfulness and the truth of love.

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Many people today still enjoy reading “Great Expectations” because they like to compare their lifestyles today with those described in the book.

During the book Pip has the desire to become a gentleman, this compares to having a good job in today’s lifestyle.

In the first four chapters of “Great Expectations” Dickens creates a world of violence and humour. Some aspects that affect Pip are: –

“Dickens” First uses humour in the opening chapter of the book by saying “The shape of the letters on my father’s grave, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.” This implies that there is humour at this point because Pip is trying to imagine his father from just a bunch of letters on a gravestone. I think this also shows sorrow for Pip because he has no knowledge of what they were like and the words show no emotion to them.

“Dickens” uses humour again at the point where Pip is talking about his five brothers “…That they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trouser-pockets” This means that he presumes his brothers were born lazy and bone-idle. Pip will have heard this quote “get your hands out of your pockets lad!” a lot from his sister Biddy because she believes he is also lazy and bone-idle.

During the book we see Pip’s world threatened by violence. “Dickens” uses violence during the book because it reflects the behaviour of society of when “Dickens” wrote the novel. It also expresses “Dickens” thoughts at the time and shows that life was very brutal and violent. He introduces violence in the book when Pip starts to describe the marshes “The dark flat wilderness…. was the marshes…and that the low leaden…. Was the river…. the distant savage lair from…the wind…rushing…from a small bundle of shivers growing fear…. afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip” This shows that Pip has a strong mental block regarding the marshes. His loneliness shows isolation of being an orphan that he will experience later in the novel. It also implies that he feels alone. I also think that he feels that no one cares for him and he has no one to turn to.

As Pip goes to the churchyard to visit his family’s graves, a convict named Magwitch confronts him. He uses physical and verbal violence towards Pip. “Hold your noise… keep still you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat.” Magwitch psychologically scares Pip to intimidate him into stealing the food, drink and a file. “You know what a file is? …. You get me wittles”

Magwitch, who is “a fearful man… with a great iron on his leg…broken shoes… an old rag tied round his head… and smothered in mud.” He uses violence to encourage Pip to steal the wittles and file “I’ll have your throat and liver out, roast it and eat it!” “You fail, or you go from my words.” Pip’s reactions, tell us that he is scared and intimidated.

Pip’s world is threatened again when he is running from the cemetery, through the marshes, he starts to become scared and upset. “I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.” This again shows how he has the mental barrier about not knowing his parents.

The second chapter starts with Pip worrying about how long his sister Mrs Joe is going to be until she gets back from looking for him. “Has she been long?” This shows that Pip is anxious because he is scared of what his sister will do to him. He is also scared of the “tickler” as Joe explains that she is going to use her “painful – end of wax.” At this point Pip cannot hide his fear “I twisted the only button on my waistcoat round and round in great depression at the fire.”

When Mrs Joe comes back from looking for Pip, she asks where he has been “Where have you been all day, you monkey?” By using the word ‘Monkey’ she implies a sense of worry because Pip was orphaned at birth and Mrs Joe has looked after Pip ever since he was born. However she does show a sign of violence, not psychically but in her speech and body language. “The slicing and the buttering of the bread.” Implies that her body language is violent because she is slicing the bread vigorously

During this chapter Dickens manages to use humour to involve the reader and to keep them interested. “I resolved to put my hunk of bread – and – butter down the leg of my trouser.” This is suggesting humour because Mrs Joe is extremely strict in her household and if she caught Pip doing such a crime he would have been severally punished. Mrs Joe also likes to feel she is in control of Pip and Joe (her husband.) She shows this when she forces them to drink the tar. “Some…beast had revived the tar water…Mrs Joe always kept a supply of it…in belief in its virtues correspondent to its nastiness.”

At the beginning of the third chapter, Dickens sets a fearful scene as Pip describes the marches again. “The mist was heavier…. instead of me running at everything, everything seemed to run at me.” This quote implies that Pip still has the mental barrier of the marshes and still feels alone form his family. There is no humour in this chapter because I think Dickens wanted to show how desperate the convict is for food and to become free. Also Pip has never experienced this before, “Dickens” creates a dramatic scene by recording Pips thoughts throughout. Violence occurs when the second convict swings for pip because he believes it is Magwitch (convict) but he cannot tell because of the mist in the air. “He swore an oath at me, and made a hit at me!”

Violent behaviour happens when Magwitch takes the food and drink that Pip had stolen. “He was gobbling mincemeat, meat – bone, bread, cheese a pork pie…often stopping… to listen.” At this point in the novel I think Pip has a sense of guilt for stealing the food, drink and file and this shall show later on in the book.

The fourth chapter starts with Mrs Joe asking where Pip has been “…Where the deuce ha’youe been?” This implies violence because Mrs Joe uses violent language. However she has feelings for Pip, as she is worried. During the chapter Pip worries about stealing the “wittles” and the file. We see Mrs Joe getting ready for the festive season cleaning the house, this suggests humour. “Making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.” We first sense violence when Pip’s guilt and fear comes out. “The terrors that assailed me whenever Mrs Joe had gone near the Pantry.” This suggests Pip’s constant fear of being found out. The words “My mind dwelt on what I had done.” Makes him feel like he has let himself down because he has disobeyed his sister and Joe.

During this chapter “Dickens” creates humour when Joe spoons the gravy onto Pip’s plate. “There being plenty of gravy…Joe spooned onto my plate… about half a pint.” This suggest humour because Joe put so much on, he couldn’t do anything else because he was to scared of what Mrs Joe would say. This also suggests that Joe is a weak-minded character, you would expect your wife to obey the husband in this era, but it shows that Mrs Joe is totally in control and it doesn’t fit the stereotype. Humour also occurs when Mrs Joe fetches some brandy, that Pip had stolen and had filled the bottle up with tar, for Mr Pumblecook. When Mr Pumblecook starts to drink the so-called brandy he chokes and coughs. “Turning around…in a spasmodic whooping – cough dance… violently plunging… making hideous faces. Pips conscience is all over the place and he is extremely worried about what Mrs Joe will say. At this point Pip runs for the door. “I released the leg of the table, and ran for my life.”

In conclusion I believe that, Dickens has successfully written the book “great Expectations” using violence and humour effectively. He does this very well in the first four chapters by creating a great setting, atmosphere with good balanced chapters well, which the reader can relate to. By writing the novel in diary/autobiography format “Dickens” creates great tension and feel to each chapter, he can also describe scenes and characters well. He involves Pip during the book, which adds personal violence and humour through his way to becoming a gentleman.

“Great Expectations” is an interesting novel that shows life as it was in those days. Although it was hard to understand, the more I studied it I felt that opened up a whole new self-interpretation to the book.


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