Great Expectations serialised in the London magazine ‘All the Year Round’ from December 1860 to August 1861 tells the story of a young, common boy who lives to become a gentleman in London. He is an orphan raised by his sister and brother-in-law, on the Kentish marshes. His mother, father and five younger brothers died early on in his life. Like Pip, Dickens had an eventful childhood. He worked from an early age, just as Pip had to. Dickens’ dislike of the prison system, probably linked to when his father was put into prison for debt, also shows in the story. Later on in the story you see that both Pip and Dickens can make out what makes a true gentleman.
The novel begins with the dramatic meeting of Pip and Magwitch, the escaped convict. He and Pip first meet in the churchyard where Pip’s family are buried. At this point Magwitch is in hiding from the law after he has escaped, from a prison hulk, an olden day prison ship. The timid Pip is visiting his parents’ grave in the churchyard when Magwitch jumps out. By using the churchyard setting, Dickens cleverly taps into his readers’ atavistic fears of death and ghosts. Instantaneously we feel the danger of the surroundings to Pip; the marshes, down by the river. Marshes can be wet, and slippy.
The river could overflow and flood the area, or have hazardous, raging currents. A very good adjective in a phrase used to describe the scene is ‘a memorably raw afternoon’. This makes you really realise how horrible it is where Pip stands. The word ‘raw’… you can imagine the cold ripping through your skin and freezing the muscles underneath. A very powerful adjective. The churchyard is described as a bleak, overgrown place. In addition, the sense of death is very ominous. As Pip looks around, Dickens uses ‘dead and buried… dead and buried’ several times. This really builds up a feeling that the grave yard is an austere place to be. Then just to get a feel of how gloomy the scene is Dickens describes the river Pip can see, as a low leaden line. Great alliteration and metaphor and it truly gives you a final feel for the gloomy, despairing scene of the churchyard.
Moving on to Magwitch, and Dickens’ characterisation of him. Firstly he describes his appearance. One of the first adjectives used to describe him is fearful. This creates a good outline for Magwitch, especially in the eyes of the young Pip. Later on in the story, the adult Pip looks at Magwitch in a whole new way. But in the eyes of a child Pip, he is a perilous monster. When Pip makes this assumption, he is easily scared into doing exactly what Magwitch says. When dickens first describes how Magwitch looks, he uses ‘coarse grey’. I think this is a great short description because those two words say a lot about someone. Coarse is rough, jagged and unkempt. Just like something wild. Grey says Dull. Dreary. Depressing. Another interestingly used word is frightened. Not a very interesting word in itself, but when you think this is a mad, threatening criminal we’re talking about, your thoughts change. But that’s all Magwitch really is, frightened. Frightened of the law and the hulks. He knows if he’s caught again there’s huge trouble for him. The simple detail of him being without a hat reveals to the reader at that time the fact that Magwitch is no gentleman.
Now we’ve built up a picture of Magwitch, on to his dialogue. His pronunciation of words is somewhat shocking, but this is probably as he never had a proper education. ‘Pecoolier’ and ‘partickler’ are two examples of poor pronunciation.
One main phrase which shows how bad his vocabulary is; and if I han’t half a mind to’ ‘tl. This non-standard English reflects how poor he is. The way he talks, in a way, makes him look extremely mad. Like a maniac just trying to force his words out. In a way though, the dialogue does reflect his character; scruffy, desperate and dishevelled. At one time he uses a wry and sarcastic type of speech. When he is talking to Pip at the graveyard, just as Pip leaves Pip says ‘goo-good night sir’. To which replies ‘Much of that! I wish I was a frog, or an eel!’ He says this in a sarcastic tone because the landscape he’s in is just a cold, wet flat. A nice touch by Dickens. Commands, insults and threats are three main factors of speech when Magwitch is talking to Pip. The first time Magwitch speaks, he uses all three in just a couple of sentences;
‘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!’
‘Hold your noise’ is a command, and Pip would really been startled by this, just popping up out of nowhere. ‘You little devil’ is an insult, and Magwitch straightaway points out his superiority in size and how threatening he is. ‘I’ll cut your throat’ is a threat, and straightaway shows Pip that he isn’t joking around.
The narrative voice Dickens uses is interesting, because the novel contains Pip as two people; a child and an adult. The first time Pip confronts Magwitch he is a child although later on in the story, he obviously meets Magwitch as an adult, and he has a completely different perspective of him. As a child, he sees him as angry, and dangerous. And because they don’t convene again until they are both much older, I think this shows the two different narrative voices in the story the best, when Pip is young, and Magwitch is a scary, fearful man. And when Pip is a gentleman and he sees Magwitch as a normal person, who is still thankful for the help Pip gave him all those years ago in the graveyard.
Now on to the second character. Miss Havisham is the lady of the house of the town, Satis, Greek for ‘enough. How ironic… She called for Pip to play at her house when hen Pip was just a young boy, so this is where they first met. This is also the first time Pip met Estella, whom he loved for the long time he visited there. But even though he had such strong feelings for her, he never got to tell her, until much later on in his life. He did, however, get to tell Miss Havisham how beautiful he thought she was. And when Miss Havisham finds out this, she instructs Estella to break his heart. She says this because when she was a lot younger, she herself was in love. But on the morning of her wedding, at exactly 8:40am. She ordered every clock in her home stopped, and no sunlight to be let in from then on, for she was stopping her life. Ever since then she has had a twisted feeling towards men, and wants to repay someone for what happened to her.
Where she lives really does show a lot about her. For example, the gates to her house are chained, locked and barred. This is symbolic to her life, closed and locked. Nothing is going in or out unless she wants it to. Also her garden is overgrown, and neglected. I think this related to her because she feels neglected as well. After all she was left alone on her wedding day. The house itself at first glance seems empty, and hollow. This creates a sense there is no feeling in it, and Miss Havisham seems the same way. She is a fairly emotionless, yet a dramatic character. But the house she lives in defiantly rubs off on her personality.
Also the passages of her home are like a maze, and feel easy to get lost in. She is like this because when Pip spoke to her, he almost spoke in fear because he didn’t know which way she’d take it. This is like a maze because you don’t know which way to approach it. The things in her house also reflect how wealthy she is; Large wax candles, rich materials such a s silk, satin and laces and then the jewels just simply lying around. Wax candles, proper wax candles were so expensive in those days that hardly anyone, except the richest people would have them. Also with the materials, maybe people would have them in little quantities, but she has them in most clothes, table clothes and what we see it in, her wedding dress. Those days a family must have had so much money because a material of that quality would cost astronomical amounts of money.