Great Expectations was published between 1860 and 1861. It was serialised in Dickens’ own magazine called ‘All the Year Round’. The nature of the narrative in the novel reflects that it was intended to be read in instalments.
The story is about a boy called ‘Pip’ who lives with his sister and her husband in the marshes of Kent. One day, in the evening he sits in the nearby cemetery looking at his parents’ tombstones when suddenly, an escaped convict jumps out and grabs him and forces Pip to do errands for him like stealing food throughout the opening chapters of the novel. Pip is both the hero and the narrator of the story, looking back reflectively on the lessons life has taught him. He is critical of the mistakes he made when he was younger. Pip is a good person but ends up doing things he wouldn’t normally do and ends up feeling guilty which makes us sympathise with his dilemma. He also makes things up because Dickens also makes us feel sorry for pip in a lot of ways.
The churchyard scene is described in a lot of detail to make people really have an idea of what the place is like. He describes it as being a dark flat wilderness intersected with dykes, mounds and gates, with cattle feeding on it’ which really paints a mental picture in the readers head to make it seem real. He also describes the river as being a grey/black colour to make the place seem very deserted and cut off from society. He mentions the ‘distant savage lair’ which makes the reader think that something could be living in there and also something bad is going to happen to Pip. He also describes the sky as being ‘a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed’ which adds to the threatening atmosphere as you would not expect the sky to be this colour. The reason Dickens starts off the novel in a graveyard is to create a threatening atmosphere and make the reader feel sorry for Pip because the setting of the novel is the complete opposite of him.
In chapter 8, Pip meets Miss Havisham for the first time. Dickens describes her as being quite a strange person for example we first see her in an arm chair with her head on one hand and her elbow leaning on the table. Pip says she is ‘the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see’ which tells the reader she is not like normal people and always seems to be sitting down. Dickens then goes on to describe what she is wearing in detail: ‘She was dressed in rich minerals, satins and silks all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependant from her hair’ which tells you she is dressed like a wedding bride. Because she hardly moves and sits around all day her clothes have started to turn yellow as Dickens describes in this quote ‘the frillings and trimmings on her bridal dress, looking like earthy paper’.
Dickens describes the house as almost as if its locked in time because Pip says ‘I took note of the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch had stopped at
twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine’. The house is also described as being very dark because all the curtains are shut and cobwebs are in the corners of the room. The word ‘dark’ also describes Miss Havisham because she is quite vengeful and used to giving orders because of a past event that has left her in the state she is in now. You can tell that the house hasn’t been used properly for ages because there are cobwebs and dust all over the inside of the house and is withering away like Miss Havisham. She says at the start of the chapter ‘Enough House’ is the name of the house which suggests she can’t stand it any longer, can’t really ask for anymore and no longer serves any purpose to her. At the beginning of the chapter, Dickens describes the house as being like a prison because he says that there is a high enclosing wall surrounding the house almost as if it’s keeping people out.
It could be said that Dickens’ whole approach is to make obvious connection between people and the places where they live. This in turn raises the central question of the novel: is it possible to change where one lives with all that implies about class and status.