From the offset of the novel you are introduced to a gentle, infantile character. ‘My infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip’. His preference to use Pip over the boy’s real name, Philip, gives you the impression of the character being gentile and childlike. I believe Dickens chose to use Pip as it sounds like a youthful and angelic name as opposed to using something harsher, for example Grant where people’s perception may be different. I feel Pips name is an essential aspect in defining his character. Similarly, Dickens chose to call the villainous character Magwitch to portray a nasty, mean minded individual. The interpretations of these names are juxtaposed to describe the two characters conflicts in personalities. To justify my reasoning, if he had interchanged these names then I’m sure readers would find it peculiar that an innocent and gentle character is called Magwitch and a nasty and cruel character is called Pip.
The opening scene is set in a gloomy and scary churchyard ‘that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard’, ‘dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard was the marshes’. These quotes symbolise Pip as alone and isolated and the word ‘wilderness’ gives the impression the place is deserted. Although Dickens uses the stereotypical churchyard to open the novel it immediately starts to build a tense and exciting atmosphere. Dickens then describes that Pips parents and five brothers are buried at the churchyard. Naturally readers sympathise with Pip and Dickens strengthens our sympathy by reinforcing Pip as alone and scared ‘that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.’ Through doing this Dickens has played on the readers emotions and although only at the beginning of the novel, we already commiserate entirely with Pip.
Pip’s whimpering is interrupted when Magwitch threatens him. ‘Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!’ This is an extremely harsh and obviously very violent statement to direct at someone so young.
Magwitch then torments Pip by confirming that his life is in danger ‘the question being whether you’re to be let live’. This strong threat is used by Dickens to show the length Magwitch was prepared to go to get what he wanted. It also makes us feel saddened that a young innocent boy is being intimidated.
The objective of the bullying becomes apparent when Magwitch demands ‘you get me a file and you get me wittles’ and Pip, who’d be dreadfully frightened and in jeopardy of his life had no option but to agree. Magwitch is then presented as animal-like ‘What fat cheeks you ha’ got, darn me if I couldn’t eat ’em’. This description makes us believe he is terribly aggressive to treat a child in such a way. It’s obviously horrifying to tell a child you want to eat their cheeks and show primitive behaviour but we know it was only an empty threat as we learn more about Magwitch when the novel unfolds.
Although Pip is unaware, due to his naivety, we are immediately made aware that Magwitch is an escaped convict by the hints Dickens gives. ‘A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg’ Therefore, it wouldn’t be wrong to think Pip was in danger.
However, Magwitch may have only been threatening Pip because he was hungry and obviously wanted to escape. He saw a vulnerable, naive boy and used him as a golden chance of survival. To reassure this point, the extent of his sincere appreciation is discovered later in the novel.
‘There’s a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man I am an Angel’ Magwitch falsely tells Pip that there he is hiding a person more dangerous than himself. From this quote you can interpret that Magwitch is either reassuring Pip that he is unlikely to hurt him but knows someone that would or that Magwitch has a kinder personality but has to revert to threats to get food.
Using a metaphor Dickens hints that Magwitch will be killed later on in the novel ‘he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in.’ Being an escaped convict Magwitch has already escaped death, now he is old, dirty and fierce some and in many ways resembles a dead person. By eluding the dead people we are given the impression dead people want him and are given a foresight into what is going to happen to Magwitch later on in the novel.
The introduction of Magwitch forces a few of Pips other personality traits to emerge. Even when being threatened by a convict Pip remains polite ‘O! Don’t cut my throat, sir’ Addressing a stranger as sir, especially when being threatened, indicates Pip had a good upbringing.
Pip thinks his mother is called ‘Also Georgiana’ because the tombstone reads ‘Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above’ this makes us realise his innocence and vulnerability, making us sympathise further.
As Magwitch leaves the churchyard Dickens describes an eerie atmosphere. ‘The other, a gibbet with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate’, ‘the sky was just a row of long angry black lines intermixed’ The evil perception of a pirate and the negatively described sky make the atmosphere ghost-like.
In the second chapter we get to understand about Pips home life. Mrs Gargery, Pips sister, caters for Pip along with her husband Joe. She pretends she doesn’t care about Pip and gets annoyed with him easily. She is harsh and strict with Pip ‘and what’s worse, she’s got Tickler with her’. A Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane which was obviously used regularly to discipline Pip. This is probably the reason for his good manners why he calls her Mrs. Joe, an extremely formal way to address someone.
‘If it warn’t for me you’d have been to the churchyard a long time ago, and stayed there. Who brought you up by hand?’ Mrs Gargery wants to be a martyr and be praised for bringing up Pip. In this quote Dickens uses a pun to explain that Mrs Gargery brought him up by herself and brought her up ‘by hand’ as she beat him when bringing him up.
It was common in the Victorian era for the woman to stay at home and bring up the children as they had no place in society and they weren’t allowed to work so it isn’t surprising that this was the situation for Mrs Gargery.
Pips relationship with Joe Gargery is completely different to that with Mrs Joe. Pip finds he can relate to him because Joe is treated in the same way that he is i.e. they are both only given one piece of bread even though there is about a 20 years age difference and Joe is the bread winner and works hard. Joe is also empathic ‘Get behind the door, old chap, and have the towel betwixt you’. Joe wants to protect Pip and doesn’t want him to get hurt.
Pips preference over Joe to Mrs Gargery is proven. ‘Mrs Joe, said I as a last resource.’ Using her as a last resort obviously means he finds talking to her uneasy.
‘People are put in the hulks because they murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions’ Pips young mind made him think that as he has asked a lot of questions and is soon to rob, he will be sent to prison.
Even though he knows that he shouldn’t steal he has no other options and Dickens evokes sympathy for him. ‘If I slept at all that night, it was only to imagine myself drifting down the river on a strong spring tide, to the Hulks’ Pip is petrified that he will be sent to the Hulks if he steals but thinks he has no choice. His innocence and naivety augment our sympathy.
Dickens builds up the atmosphere before Pip steals the file ‘There was a door in the kitchen, communicating with the forge’. This metaphor emphasises that Pip is about to steal.
The third chapter is set in a marshland with deep fog and the opening is essentially dark and mysterious to continue the momentum of building the readers tension.
‘I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night’ I feel Dickens use of a goblin was the prime simile to give us a good image of what the atmosphere is like.
‘Instead of my running at everything, everything seemed to run at me.’ Again Dickens describes the atmosphere by saying that when you saw things it seemed like they just appeared in front of you because of the thick fog preventing vision of more distant objects.
Pips guilt is so intense at this point that he hallucinates that the oxen are talking to him. ‘Holloa, young thief!’ Obviously the ox didn’t speak to him and this shows how petrified he is of getting caught.
To describe Magwitch’s exasperating hunger Dickens uses a metaphor ‘His eyes looks so awfully hungry, too’ This explains to the reader that Magwitch hasn’t had anything to eat for along time and uses one of the senses other than taste to explain the extent of his hunger.
Magwitch’s eating habits reinforce the idea of him being wild and uncivilized ‘he was gobbling mincemeat, meat-bone, bread, cheese, and pork pie, all at once’ I presume this is metaphorically speaking but Dickens still portrays Magwitch as manner less and thus familiarises the reader again with the contrast of Pips and Magwitch’s personalities.
Joes eating manners are the contrary to Magwitch’s. Joes are described as ‘another helpless bite’ as opposed to Magwitch’s eating being depicted as ‘he swallowed, or rather snapped, every mouthful’. Dickens use of eating manners within the opening chapters is used to represent the character. Joe, who has respected eating manners, is gentle, kind and caring as opposed to Magwitch’s being characterized as animalistic and primitive. These traits are reflected in his eating. The use of ‘snapped every mouthful’ gives a loud onomatopoeic sound of him snapping shut his jaw. It also gives an image of him eating his food whole like a crocodile snapping closed its jaw after eating cattle. His eating is then compared to a dog ‘The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog’.
Dickens used the characters names and eating manners to describe characters regularly throughout these early chapters. I think this works well to describe Magwitch’s animal-like characteristics.
Although most likely frightened and intimidated, Pip courageously tries to make conversation with Magwitch ‘I am glad you enjoy it’. Referring to the food he gave Magwitch, Pip still remains with the decency and kindness not to hate someone that has forced him into an undesirable situation. Contrarily, Pip adresses Magwitch as his friend. ‘Leave any for him? Who’s him? said my friend’ Pip approves a friendship with Magwitch even after all the tormenting he had to endure. This shows his sense of forgiving and kindness. This quote also confirms that Magwitch made up the person he said he was hiding because he is completely unaware of who Pip is talking about.
Dickens leaves the opening chapters on a knife-edge. ‘The last I heard of him, I stopped in the mist to listen, and the file was still going.’ Magwitch has left Pip but the ending is very open to the reader’s imagination.