‘Great Expectations’ was written in the early 1860s by the famous writer Charles Dickens. At that time massive changes were taking place in the world. There were hugely rich people but lots of people who were living on the streets with no home, no job and no money. The rich people did not give the poor any support by paying taxes which is why there were vast numbers of people living in poverty.
The novel is portrayed as an autobiography, through the eyes of Philip Pirrip, an orphan looking back at his life. The novel is ‘written’ by the adult Pip which is why, in parts Pip seems to be critical of himself. The fact that the novel is written in autobiographical form is linked to the moral purpose and reader appeal the novel has. I think Dickens wrote ‘Great Expectations’ in the first person in an autobiographical style so he could get Pip’s feelings and views of the world across to the reader in the most efficient way possible. This is why everything in the novel seems so big to the reader – because it seen through the eyes of Pip who is so small. It also makes it more realistic so the reader will feel like they are really there, in the story.
It is set in two very different locations, the country and the city of London and when Pip discovers he has ‘Great Expectations’ his lifestyle changes considerably. By the end of the novel he has learnt the lessons of his ‘Great Expectations’ and at the close of the story is a much more likable and wiser person for it.
Chapter one of ‘Great Expectations’ had to be interesting to grab the reader’s attention and I think Dickens has done this very well. It had to get the reader involved and give them a feeling for the main characters and the settings, which ‘Great Expectations’ achieves easily.
The opening chapter of any book is crucial as it determines whether the reader decides to read on and find out what happens. Chapter one also sets up many of the mysteries and themes of ‘Great Expectations’ which last throughout the novel. When Magwitch is introduced he sets up the mysteries between him, Miss Havisham and Estella and these mysteries aren’t solved until nearly the end of the novel. These mysteries carry the main moral message of the novel. When Pip meets Miss Havisham and Estella his self-esteem and moral values decline from the influence they have over him. He begins to believe what Estella tells him and quickly becomes ashamed of himself and his family. However, when Pip meets Magwitch his moral values and self-esteem go up again as Magwitch makes Pip realise what is really important in life – not what other people tell you you should think.
In the novel Dickens has many different strategies. Some of these are powerful characterisation such as Magwitch and Miss Havisham, descriptions of the landscape to help the reader imagine what it would look like if they were really there, dialogue which helps the reader determine what type of character the one speaking is, comedy, for example when Mrs Joe is buttering bread in chapter 2 and mystery. There are many mysteries throughout the novel and numerous themes. The main mysteries of the novel are set up by Magwitch, Miss Havisham and Estella and they carry the main moral message of the novel as I have explained above. Some of the important themes Dickens introduces over the course of the novel are crime and punishment, snobbery and childhood. He concentrates most on childhood as the start of the novel is seen through the eyes of a six-year-old child and Dickens feels strongly about this theme. He feels sympathy for Pip when Pip is feeling frightened and makes the reader feel for him too. One of Dickens’ other central themes is the ill treatment of children which he obviously has strong views about, as Pip is ill treated a lot throughout the novel.
I am going to analyse chapter one of this story and how Dickens presents the characters of Pip and Magwitch and how he portrays the setting.
From the fist paragraph of the novel I can tell that Pip is a small child because it says ‘ my infant tongue’ and ‘nothing longer or more explicit than Pip’. This at once endears him to the reader as readers usually have stronger feelings about child characters in a book than adult ones. Pip is a symbolic name as pips are small and vulnerable but will grow and flourish if nurtured and cared for. However, as the next paragraph reveals, Pip has not had as much love and attention as he needed because he is an orphan.
The idea that Pip has derived an impression of his Mother and Father from their tombstones will immediately make the reader feel sorry for him. I think that the shape of Pip’s Father’s tombstone has influenced Pip’s image of his Father because Pip thinks he was a ‘square, stout, dark man with curly black hair’. Tombstones are usually square and stout and the ‘dark man with curly black hair’ could be derived from the decoration of the stone. The tombstones seem dominating to Pip because he is so small and helpless and he seems
lonely and sad. He also has an impression of his five brothers from their gravestones – he thinks ‘ they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers pockets’ and I think he has got this idea from his brothers’ graves all lined up in a row, straight and flat so that they wouldn’t fidget. Pip thinks everyone is ‘dead and buried’ which emphasises even more how alone in the world he is. These images show that Pip has a lot of imagination but is lonely and sad but has a lot of potential.
The setting for chapter one is a churchyard and this is very neglected and depressing. It is extremely frightening for Pip as, being an imaginative child, he imagines all sorts of terrible things happening to him while he is there. It is also a gothic setting so this makes Pip even more afraid of being there. Pip later goes on to describe the churchyard, the landscape and himself. He portrays himself as a ‘small bundle of shivers’ which emphasises how cold, scared and insignificant he is. The marshes are bleak, dreary, immensely cold, neglected and depressing and seem to stretch on forever but this is because they are seen through the eyes of a six-year-old child who is naï¿½ve and very young, therefore he draws childish conclusions about everything. He is beginning to get very afraid but then something happens which he never forgets and makes him even more scared.
This event is the introduction of Abel Magwitch, an escaped convict. He ‘comes up from the graves’ and Pip is terrified. He threatens Pip that he will cut his throat unless Pip stops crying and this frightens Pip so much that he does. Dickens uses very violent language when describing Magwitch, for example’ cut by flints’, ‘stung by nettles’, ‘torn by briars’. This type of language implies that Magwitch has become very ‘hard’ and that nothing could hurt him because he has already been hurt as badly as he could have possibly been.
Magwitch picks Pip up and turns him upside-down to empty his pockets. All he finds is a piece of bread but he eats it at once. He is portrayed as a wild, ravenous beast that is extremely dangerous and Pip is petrified. Pip then describes how Magwitch turned him upside-down so suddenly that the church went ‘head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet’. Then, after the church had ‘come to itself’ Pip is put on top of a high tombstone which he clings onto for two reasons, these being to stay on it and to stop himself from crying in front of Magwitch who would think he was a baby if he did. This gravestone is not likely to be that high but as Pip is so small it seems huge and as tall as a house.
After Magwitch has eaten Pip’s bread he tells Pip he wants to eat his cheeks because they are so fat and Pip thinks he really means it. The reader, however, will know that Magwitch does not mean what he says and I think Dickens put that idea in the novel just to make the reader feel sorry for Pip.
Dickens mentions Pip’s orphan status again before the end of chapter one as Magwitch asks Pip where his mother is. Pip replies ‘there, sir!’ and this results in a startled Magwitch making ‘a short run’ before stopping and looking at Pip over his shoulder. Pip explains that his mother is ‘Also Georgina’ and this will immediately make the reader feel sorry once again for Pip being an orphan. Dickens also makes Magwitch be violent to Pip again before Pip is allowed to go home. Magwitch threatens Pip he will rip his heart and liver out unless he brings him a file and some wittles, which makes Pip the most scared that he had ever been in his entire life. This is very violent language and, as this novel was originally published in installments in the newspaper, it will make the reader want to know more about Magwitch and Pip and why Magwitch is so aggressive so they would want to read more. This, of course, would sell more newspapers and, if the instalments were eventually made into a book, people would go out and buy it.
Throughout the novel Dickens is ambivalent and he has great sympathy for people like Pip and Magwitch. If Dickens was not treated correctly as a child then this might explain why the novel seems so realistic, if it was written from his own experiences.
To conclude, I think Dickens presents the characters of Pip and Magwitch and the setting very cleverly as it is through the eyes of the main character which makes everything seem more believable. He uses language skilfully to make the reader aware of what is going on and make them feel they are actually there, watching Pip and the other characters as they make their way through the plot of the novel. Overall I think Dickens uses the characters and setting to very good effect in this opening chapter.