“Great Expectations”, written between December 1860 and August 1861 by Charles Dickens; it was Dickens’ thirteenth novel. Dickens had been a well-recognised figure within the literary world for the good part of twenty five years. He was seen as an author who helped shape literature of the age. His vivid imagery and development of characters had become one of his trademarks; despite this the public did not well receive many of his novels written just before “Great Expectations”, in particular his ‘darker’ novels. As a result of this, sales of his magazine “All Year Round”, which featured novels, released in instalments, were falling. “Great Expectations” was written as an attempt to save “All Year Round”.
To appeal to the literary audience of the time, Dickens incorporated many features of the popular novel genres of the period. There were five main types of novel, which drew in many readers of the Victorian era. The ‘Silver Fork’ novel featured stories about the lives of the upper class citizens; these novels fascinated those of lower class, who were keen to gain an insight into how the upper classes lived their lives. The ‘New Gate’ novel consisted of tales related to crime. People of the time, just as those of today, were captivated by stories about jail, crime, the ‘criminal underworld’ and gruesome murders.
The “Gothic” novel featured dark, desolate, bleak settings or frightening mansions, a classic example of the “Gothic” novel is “Frankenstein”. The ‘Romantic’ novel; love stories, particular popular when the story featured mismatched lovers. The ‘Social-Purpose’ novel was a genre written specifically in order to raise social issues to the attention of the general public, a great example being the poor treatment of orphans highlighted in ‘Oliver Twist’. Dickens also wanted to highlight he felt society faced and the attitudes of Victorian society which needed to be addressed. He felt compelled to highlight the problems of the structure in place in Victorian society, due to the events Dickens faced within his own life, having come from a working class background however. Dickens managed to work his way up through the classes.
As a result of this he had experienced first-hand, the attitudes and views between the classes. His father was also imprisoned for debt; a trivial matter which is common in today’s society and seems unworthy of a jail sentence, Dickens also felt the Victorian justice system, as well as the social class system together with the attitudes of society were clearly wrong and harsh, punishing people for the smallest of crimes and people of lower class found it difficult to move up the social class system, the upper classes felt superior to those of lower class, doing everything in their power to ensure they remained above those of lower class, they were also highly judgemental. Dickens addresses these issues in “Great Expectations” through the eyes of the protagonist Pip as an adult, looking back on his life.
We first meet Pip, a small, weak, vulnerable orphan in a bleak, cold, harsh graveyard; in this ‘meeting on the marshes’, Pip is startled by the appearance of Magwitch, who is first portrayed as the villain or antagonist within “Great Expectations”. Magwitch an escaped convict is shown as a threat to Pip; Magwitch threatens and manipulates Pip into stealing a file and food for him. Although this seems insignificant it plays a much deeper role within the complex and well executed plot of “Great Expectations”. As the novel progresses, Pip’s life drastically changes, he is invited to meet Miss Havisham, a heartbroken, hurt, troubled women. Miss Havisham has a sense of mystery and eccentricity about her. The purpose of Pip’s visits to Miss Havisham decaying mansion appear to be innocent as Pip seems to be merely a play mate for Miss Havisham’s adopted daughter Estella. However it is later revealed that Miss Havisham had been left rejected on her wedding day and a result resents all men.
Following the anguish and heartbreak, she now aims to gain revenge on all men through Estella and is ‘training’ her to break men’s hearts. Pip has fallen victim to this wicked plan and begins to fall in love with Estella. The novel progresses further and as Pip and Estella grow older Pip’s love for Estella grows; Pip also grows more socially aware and realises that his class alone would stand in the way of his love for Estella, as a result he wishes to become a gentlemen and move up, through the class system in the hope of him becoming a gentlemen and marrying Estella. To Pip’s relief these hopes of improving his social status are realised just before he is due to start his blacksmiths apprenticeship when he is informed he is to be sponsored by an anonymous benefactor and that he will move to London and begin his life as a gentleman. Pip assumes Miss Havisham is the benefactor and that she has chosen to sponsor him so that he may marry Estella. After living in London for a few years and ‘gaining’ his gentleman status, Pip begins to adopt the selfish and judgmental attitude of the upper classes. Pip grows more curious in regards to his benefactor, yet he still leads a care-free, luxurious and lavish lifestyle and after being appointed Estella’s escort in London begins to believe his assumption that Miss Havisham is his benefactor is indeed correct.
However and unfortunately for Pip, his hopes and dream are shattered in chapter thirty-nine as we are once again introduced to Magwitch; however he is now presented in a different light, showing a softer side. Magwitch then reveals he is in fact Pip’s benefactor, sending Pip’s world into disarray. Pip is informed as to how the ex-convict has made a respectable living farming after being imprisoned in Australia and how Magwitch felt compelled to return the help given to him by a young Pip in chapter one. The plot then grows more convoluted as Magwitch has returned to England illegally and the price for a prisoner who returns to England after imprisonment in Australia is death.
Pip and Herbert Pocket fashion a plan to help Magwitch return to Australia, however this fails when Magwitch runs into his old adversary, Compeyson, a fight breaks out and Compeyson dies whilst Magwitch is badly injured and as a result hospitalised. Pip then deduces that Estella is Magwitch’s daughter and reveals this to Magwitch on his death bed. Estella is married to Bentley Drummle although the marriage is not one of happiness. Pip falls ill and Joe Gargery, now married to Biddy, takes care of him. Pip then decides to visit Miss Havisham one last time; she seems to regret her previous, twisted actions however she strays to close to a fire and her dry, decaying wedding dress is set alight. Pip manages to rescue her however dies from her burns. Pip sees Estella wandering alone, her marriage has come to an end and she appears to want a fresh start and a chance of friendship with Pip. The novel ends on a high with Pip and Estella appearing to have a chance with love.
This essay focuses on chapters one and thirty-nine as they show the greatest contrast between the way the characters are presented and their attitudes towards one another. They also show the characters positions within the settings, Dickens has created.
Dickens creates a harsh and threatening setting and atmosphere in chapter one of “Great Expectations” by describing the sea as “a distant savage lair.” The use of this metaphor creates a vivid image of a rough sea and a bleak, harsh environment, yet Dickens places a small, feeble, young Pip in this dark, dangerous, precarious setting; it allows the atmosphere to feel even more hostile, menacing and intimidating, allowing the reader to gain a greater understanding of the harsh atmosphere created by Dickens. The reader then begins to question why such a small boy is out alone in such a terrible place and engages the reader. The adjective “savage” has connotations of wild, ferocious, uncivilized and brutal, this allows the reader to begin to realise the danger the sea imposes on Pip and shows the sea as no place for a young boy.
The word “savage” is linked with the word “lair”, which has connotations of evil, wild animals and is thought of as a place where danger dwells. When the two words are placed in the metaphor “distant savage lair”, it gives the impression of a horrendous, brutal place with some sort of animosity residing there. The social historical context of the sea during the nineteenth century was that the sea was generally seen as a danger, people would have heard about deaths at sea, convicts were sent overseas and there was a political revolution, across the channel, in France. As a result the sea was seen as an imposing threat on life. This again creates a threatening and harsh atmosphere within chapter one and shows Pip’s vulnerability within the setting Dickens has created. Dickens wants the reader to see Pip as vulnerable in order to help the reader feel for Pip, this is necessary as Pip is the protagonist and the reader should be able to empathise with and care for this young, orphan child. Dickens also uses the setting and Pip’s position within the setting to highlight the hardship and isolation orphans faced as part of their daily lives.
In chapter thirty-nine of “Great Expectations”, Dickens creates an intense, anxious setting and atmosphere by introducing the weather, Dickens writes “It was wretched weather; stormy and wet stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets.” The use of repetition emphasizes the extent and intensity of the weather. The use of the word “stormy”, which has connotations of violent, disturbing and rough, creates an intense, unsettled atmosphere; the unsettled atmosphere created by this quote, gives the reader a sense of anxiety, representing Pip’s feelings in chapter thirty-nine. The use of pathetic fallacy highlights Pip’s worries, outlined at an early stage in the chapter, again adding to the anxiety of the reader, as they are unaware as to why Pip is unsettled and feeling uncomfortable, they are eager to uncover the root of Pip’s discomfort.
The stormy weather represents the anxiety and worries within Pip’s mind with regards to his income and benefactor; the use of pathetic fallacy also allows the reader to gain an insight into Pip’s state of mind, it also adds to the lack of stability in the atmosphere of chapter thirty-nine. Dickens also touches on the attitude of the upper classes in Victorian society; Pip, although now a gentleman, has many worries. Dickens highlights the point that money doesn’t buy happiness through the use of pathetic fallacy in this quote. The use of the word “wretched”, which has connotations of dismal, woeful and vile, creates an effect of a dark, ominous, relentless storm. The setting and atmosphere in chapter thirty-nine shares many similarities with chapter one, in both chapters the setting and atmosphere is vicious, harsh and unbearable to Pip. However unlike in chapter one, Pip is protected from the elements, showing Pip as a less vulnerable character and also represents the change in Pip’s status, as he is now sitting reading, sheltered in an apartment on the top floor. In both chapters one and thirty-nine Dickens uses the harsh, threatening atmosphere to represent the imminent arrival of Magwitch.
Further to this in both chapters Dickens seems to incorporate Magwitch into the setting, which was a threat to the young, unprotected Pip; at times the setting and atmosphere appears to be a direct representation or extension of the position and relationship between Pip and Magwitch, portraying Magwitch, or the imminent arrival of Magwitch, as a threat to the wellbeing of Pip. However in chapter thirty-nine, although the weather is once more used to symbolise Magwitch’s arrival, Magwitch is now providing the shelter Pip has from the weather, as it was he who has funded the apartment in which finds himself. On the contrary Magwitch still poses a mental threat as he has the ability to manipulate Pip, although he still poses a mental threat as he has the ability to change Pip’s whole position within the setting, changing Pip’s way of life and removing the financial support, would once again see Pip exposed and under threat from the harsh environment Dickens has created in both chapters one and thirty-nine of “Great Expectations”.
In chapter one of “Great Expectations”, Dickens presents Pip as a neglected, feeble, isolated boy by writing, “and that small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.” The use of the metaphor “small bundle of shivers” is effective as the word “bundle” has connotations of rushed, neglected and thrown together; this shows the lack of interest and love shown towards Pip by his older sister, who acts as his guardian; further to this the word “small” although a common adjective which appears insignificant in most cases, however in the context Dickens has used it, within the metaphor, it further enhances the image created in the mind of the reader, it creates an image of a malnourished, underweight child, who appears to be ‘wasting away’. Dickens portrays Pip in a manner similar to an endangered animal; Pip has curled himself into a ball, as if a defence mechanism in order to shield himself from the imposing environment in which he finds himself.
The use of this mouse-like, compact animal imagery is effective as it allows the reader to understand just how vulnerable Pip is as he has reverted to instinctive animalistic protective behaviour; this allows the reader to see just how endangered, under threat and exposed Pip feels. Further to this, Dickens portrays the relationship between Mrs Joe Gargery (Pip’s older sister) and Pip, within this quote Dickens writes “… growing afraid of afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip.” as a reader, you wonder why such a small boy is isolated, afraid and crying. In today’s society, we wonder why no guardian is present to comfort the child, or why he has been left on his own vulnerable and afraid.
This quote shows the lack of care shown towards Pip by his older sister; as a result of this, the reader is able to further empathise with Pip, this is essential especially at this early stage of the novel to build the foundations on which the readers feeling toward Pip will develop. Moreover, within this quote, Dickens effectively shows the negative attitude and lack of interest shown towards orphans not only by society in the Victorian era; not only was there a negative attitude from society but also by the guardian of the orphan, in many cases the child was seen as a burden, to be seen and not heard, a large degree of neglect was also shown towards orphans, unfortunately many were left without a home and those within orphanages were treated just a harshly, with discipline coming in the form of violent beatings, and often lived in terrible conditions.
Unlike the vulnerable boy, Dickens created in chapter one, Dickens presents Pip as an arrogant, judgemental, impolite young man, in chapter thirty-nine of “Great Expectations”; Dickens writes, “”Do you wish to come in?” “Yes,” he replied; “I wish come in, Master.” I had asked the question inhospitably enough, for I resented the sort of bright recognition that still shone in his face. I resented it, because it seemed to imply that he expected me to respond to it. But I took him in to the room I had just left, and, having set the lamp on the table, asked him as civilly as I could, to explain himself.” The speech in this quote highlights Pip’s elevation through the social hierarchal system, as when Pip asks the unidentified man “Do you wish to come in?” the man responds “I wish to come in, Master.” The word “Master” has connotations of dominance, control and authority – the person who is addressing another as “Master” is therefore inferior or submissive to their dominant master. However Pip holds no power over this person, yet he is addressed as “Master”; this shows the belief of Victorians, that those in a higher class within the social hierarchy were, indeed superior to those of lower class.
Further to this, Dickens commendably highlights the attitudes of those in a position of high rank within the social class system to those, supposedly, inferior; Dickens writes “I had asked the question inhospitably enough, for I resented the sort of bright recognition that still shone in his face. I resented it, because it seemed to imply that he expected me to respond to it.” The word “resented” is repeated twice within this short section of text, the effect of repeating this powerful word used her in the verb form, creates a sense of hostility when read, this hostility felt by the reader is reflected in Pip’s feelings towards this man who is clearly delighted by the sight of Pip, this is evident as Dickens writes “… the sort of bright recognition that still shone in his face.” Bright has connotations of happiness, blissful and positivity however, Pip does not return this warm reception he is faced with, as Dickens writes “…that still shone in his face.”
This shows that Pip is merely waiting for the “bright recognition” in the face of the man to end, this is shown as Dickens uses the word “still” to proceed “shone in his face.” The manner in which Dickens constructs this sentence, shows that Pip feels that the “bright look of recognition” which he resents, has lasted for an uncomfortably, lengthy period of time; this coupled with the negative tone almost juxtaposes the welcome Pip receives; Dickens shows this through the use of positive words, when describing the facial expression, etched on the face of this stranger; such as “shone” which has connotations of delight, joy and in this context the “bright recognition” shines through the face of the man, as if he cannot contain his emotions. Pip on the other hand reacts to this with negativity and hatred this is shown through the tone of the text whilst Dickens makes it clear, writing “I resented it, because it seemed to imply that he expected me to respond to it.” Pip feels he is superior to this man and is not required to be in the presence of such a despicable, lower class stranger; Pip is bemused and cannot gather why this man seems to expect him to reply to his welcome, or why the man even expects any response of a positive nature. This attitude, shown by Pip is completely the opposite of the nervous, feeble, submissive child, seen in chapter one.
The effect of this on the reader is one of hostility and shock towards Pip, who seems to have changed dramatically from the young boy who was exposed and vulnerable, who Dickens had allowed the reader to empathise with earlier in the novel. This is key as it allows the reader to feel for this man, who is later revealed as Magwitch and Pip’s benefactor; the empathy felt towards Magwitch at this stage of the novel, following his lengthy absence from the plot, allows the reader to retract their previous negative feelings towards Magwitch who was portrayed as the villain in the early stages of the novel. Moreover to the reader Pip’s attitude seems to juxtapose his “gentleman” status, the title of “gentleman” has connotations of polite, well-mannered and respectable, yet none of these qualities appear present in Pip when he is faced with this man who appears to be of lower status. Pip also completely bases his judgments on the appearance of the man; this also shows the reader the arrogant and assuming nature of not only Pip, but of the upper classes of the Victorian era as a whole.
Dickens in chapter one of “Great Expectations” presents Magwitch, as a villainous, aggressive, threatening character; Dickens writes, “Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat.” The use of strong adjectives immediately creates a villainous image of Magwitch, Dickens writes “… Cried a terrible voice…” The use of the adjective “terrible” has connotations of disgust, despicable and frightening; this causes the reader to identify Magwitch as the antagonist, and take the side of the young, vulnerable, protagonist, Pip. Further to this the use of the underworld imagery in this quote, further enhances the villainous image of Magwitch, created initially, through the use of powerful adjectives. Magwitch is portrayed as if rising from the dead, Dickens writes “…as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch.” Dickens once again uses the characters position within the setting, to evoke feeling from the reader; this is an example of the “Gothic” genre influence which Dickens incorporated into “Great Expectations”.
By painting a picture in the mind of the reader of Magwitch rising from the underworld; it creates a iniquitous aura around Magwitch, as the underworld has connotations of demons, the devil and evil, further enhancing the fearsome image of Magwitch created. The speech within this quote is also very harsh, aggressive and directed at a young innocent boy. Dickens uses imperatives such as “Hold your noise!” along with an angry tone in the text, the effect this has on the reader is that it immediately makes the reader feel negativity towards Magwitch, as he is aggressive to Pip. Magwitch also makes a threat on the life of this terrified child, Magwitch threatens “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat.” Again an imperative is used, showing the aggression in the voice Magwitch; Magwitch also threatens to cut the throat of Pip, this cold-hearted threat shows the pure lack of morals he holds. Further to this it further enhances the disgust the reader feels towards Magwitch, as they can simply not accept the cold hearted murderous attitude shown by him.
In chapter thirty-nine of “Great Expectations”, Dickens portrays Magwitch as loving, generous character in chapter thirty-nine. Dickens writes “Look’ee here, Pip. I’m your second father. You’re my son – more to me nor any son. I’ve put away money for you to spend. “When I was a hired-out shepherd in a solitary hut, not seeing no faces but faces of sheep till I half forgot wot men’s and women’s faces wos like, I see yourn…” This is a far cry from the evil, cold-hearted, threatening Magwitch, Introduced in chapter one. Dickens uses a monologue from Magwitch to portray his feelings towards Pip; Dickens writes “I’m your second father.” The use of the word “father” seems inappropriate way in which to describe the relationship between the Magwitch and Pip at this point, yet such is Magwitch’s love for Pip, that he has become his father, even though the relationship is only existent in the mind of Magwitch.
The word “father” has connotations of unconditional love, care and protection; this allowing the reader to gain an insight into the strength of fatherly love Magwitch feels towards Pip. Magwitch is also reminiscing, he says When I was a hired-out shepherd in a solitary hut, not seeing no faces but faces of sheep till I half forgot wot men’s and women’s faces wos like, I see yourn” This shows that in times of severe isolation and loneliness in the life he could only remember Pip, and the image of Pip comforted him in those times. This insight into the life of Magwitch strengthens the readers understanding of the love and longing for Pip Magwitch possessed, in times of adversity. Magwitch’s generosity is also shown as he says “I’ve put away money for you to spend.” This selfless act shows how generous and loving Magwitch has become since chapter one, where he was depicted as the murderous villain. Dickens shows through this that people can change over time and that there personalities are not defined by their social status; further to this, Dickens conveys to the reader that they should give people the chance to change and that a previous judgement cast upon someone is subject to change in the future.
In chapters one and thirty-nine of “Great Expectations”, the relationship between Pip and Magwitch changes immensely. In chapter one, the young, feeble, exposed Pip is inferior and under threat, physically to the strong, dangerous, convict Magwitch, who had escaped from prison. This is shown when Dickens writes, “He gave a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the church jumped over its weather-cock… and went on in these fearful terms-” This shows that Magwitch had the ability to cause havoc in the life of Pip, and ‘turn his life upside-down’; Magwitch even seems to have the ability to place the church upside down, in the mind of the young, naï¿½ve Pip. By Dickens writing “He gave a most tremendous dip and roll…” it portrays that, in chapter one Pip was terribly fearful of Magwitch and in awe of his strength. However in chapter thirty-nine the relationship changes drastically. At the start of the chapter Pip is seen as superior to Magwitch; with Pip being addressed as “Master” by Magwitch, and Pip showing arrogance, disrespect and resent towards Magwitch.
However Magwitch begins to move into superiority as the chapter progresses; although Magwitch who is now “about sixty”, he was still a “muscular man”, and no longer poses a physical threat towards Pip. Magwitch now poses a financial, social and mental threat towards Pip; this is shown as Pip recalls “Could I make a guess, I wonder,” said the Convict, “at your income since you came of age! As to my first figure now. Five?” With my heart beating like a heavy hammer of disordered action, I rose out of my chair, and stood with my hand upon the back of it, looking wildly at him.” Pip cannot understand how Magwitch knows the details concerning his income, and cannot come to terms that it is a stranger, a convict, who he has just met (having no idea it is actually Magwitch) knows these details. It causes Pip severe anxiety to the point where he has to steady himself on his chair, as Pip begins to realise, this convict is indeed his benefactor. Pip is bewildered, if the news was to spread, he would no longer be accepted by his peers, and no longer be regarded as a gentleman; further to this, following the rude reception he had given to this man, the convict could easily remove his financial support. Magwitch is now once again in the position of power by the end of chapter thirty-nine, once Pip had uncovered the truth, finding that, the convict was Magwitch, and his benefactor.
To conclude, Dickens conveys a range of messages to the reader through both Pip and Magwitch. Dickens expresses views on society – he manages to challenge the stereotypes of the different classes in society and how people conform or do not conform to the stereotypes placed upon them. Dickens shows through Pip the judgemental attitude of the upper classes that were deemed superior and more respectable to those of lower class.
Yet Pip’s behaviour in chapter thirty-nine would be deemed disrespectful by the reader; further to this, the reader would have seen Magwitch’s polite, caring and generous behaviour towards Pip as more acceptable than the behaviour of Pip the “gentleman”. Magwitch who is also a convict, conforms to the stereotype of a criminal in chapter one, however in chapter thirty nine, Magwitch is portrayed as loving, caring and selfless, thus breaking the stereotype and also showing that people should not be judged as they have the potential to change ion future. Dickens also shows that it is possible to work your way up through the social class system – however this elevation through the system may not necessarily improve the person’s character for the better.