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“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens and “Kestrel for a Knave” by Barry Hines Essay Sample

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“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens and “Kestrel for a Knave” by Barry Hines Essay Sample

We have been analysing two stories, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. There is a tremendous contrast between them in the way that the main character is portrayed to create sympathy.


In Great expectations the opening chapter is a particular day when something very specific and important happens to Pip. This sets off the whole plot of the story. The convict, Abel Magwitch is portrayed as very petrifying in the opening scene but he is renowned to be the person who funded Pip’s rise later in the story. From the opening chapter of Kestrel for a Knave the story is a day exactly like any other in the life of Billy. This evolves into the plot when other events take place that don’t happen everyday.


Great Expectations is set in the countryside on a cold and bleak November afternoon. The opening chapter is set in a mysterious, damp and eerie graveyard with marshy surroundings. Dickens describes this as a ‘bleak place overgrown with nettles’ and the surroundings are described as a ‘dark flat wilderness’. This description of Pip’s surroundings creates a lot of sympathy for him, as a young boy of his age should not be wondering around graveyards. Having the graveyard as a setting also establishes the fact that Pip is an orphan as all his family are dead thus creating more sympathy. Quotations like ‘As I never saw my mother or father’ outline this. Kestrel for a knave is set in an urban area in a drab, cold council house bedroom. The setting is probably in the North as some of the language indicates this-‘go on, thar up’ and ‘switch t’light out then’ Hines pays attention to detail, which outlines the fact that Billy is poverty-stricken.’ Inside the bedroom the darkness was of a gritty texture’.


Pip is an innocent, young orphan. In the first chapter he encounters Abel Magwitch which was a horrific experience that stays with him for life. Abel Magwitch is an escaped convict that Dickens describes as ‘a fearful man’ and ‘a man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head’. From this description the reader can verify that this character is bad. This makes Pip seem very vulnerable and insecure. Pips conflict with this old, disreputable terrifying character creates a good Vs evil situation that makes the audience take pity on Pip. Billy from Kestrel for a Knave is an adolescent, fatherless boy. He is used to the tough struggle of life, which is reflected in his personality. He is very streetwise and has no respect for authority as he steals a bottle of orange juice and a carton of eggs effortlessly. Billy’s brother, Jud gives him a hard time speaking harshly to him and hitting him. An example of this is when Jud says ‘think I don’t know?’ very aggressively and the later tells Billy to ‘shut it’ then swings his fist under the blankets and thumps Billy in the kidneys. This makes the reader feel sorry for Billy because of what he has to put up with everyday.


Great Expectations is first person narrative. I think Dickens did this because it gives an overwhelming power of experience and reality. Dickens writes in long complex sentences that are descriptive with a careful use of punctuation-‘the marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines with dense black lines intermixed.’ This gives the impression of him writing in character to a certain extent. Some of the language is more difficult to read in Great Expectations because some words have disappeared from common use like ‘lozenge’ being a tombstone and ‘wittles’ being food.

These words have evolved in language today so it is harder to read. Another reason for this use of language could be that the character Abel Magwitch has a slight cockney accent with mispronunciation of words. ‘Wittles’ could be a mispronunciation of ‘vichials’ that in the time when the story was written would mean food. Hines has a different writing style to Dickens but still manages to create the same effects. Kestrel for a Knave is written third person narrative. The reality of Billy’s feelings is slightly weaker as it is not Billy telling the story. Hines uses more simpler and modern language writing in basic, simple sentences-‘Billy turned over.’ And ‘Jud followed him and cough-coughed into his neck.’ As Kestrel for a knave is probably set somewhere in the North there is a lot of slang examples of this are; ‘bloody’ and ‘shut it’.


In Great Expectations there is quite a sombre sorrowful atmosphere at the beginning that creates a lot of sympathy. Later in the first chapter fear and apprehension overcome this but sympathy is still present through out but for a different reason. The way Dickens presents the character Abel Magwitch makes the reader feel compatible to Pip, as it is a very frightening experience for him. In Kestrel for a knave Hine’s concentrates on keeping the atmosphere depressing and dismal by focusing on Billy’s surroundings and actions. This creates sympathy for him, as he has to endure a grim life. Both stories contain some subtle humour, which lightens the mood slightly in places. In Great Expectations Abel Magwitch implies that he would like to eat Pip to frighten him when he says ‘You young dog’ he said licking his lips, ‘what fat cheeks you ha’ got.’ There is more humour in Kestrel for a Knave especially at the end of the first chapter when the milkman asks how Billy is and he casually says ‘O, not so bad’ almost sarcastically.

In conclusions I think that both Hines and Dickens have very different writing styles but can still achieve the same effects in creating sympathy for the main characters in their stories by what they say. Individual aspects of the stories are very similar but are presented in slightly different ways. Great Expectations is written by a very well known author and it is a novel that has had much more success than Kestrel for a Knave. I think this is because of the time that it was written. It was written in a time when a majority of people couldn’t read so stories where read to them as a form of entertainment.

This was because there was nothing else to do but read as many things hadn’t been invented. I think this is the main reason that Dickens’ writing style is much more descriptive than Hines’. Great Expectations is first person narrative that gives a power of recalling and reality. Dickens decides to write in character to build more of a relationship between the reader and the main character so it is more realistic to what they are feeling. This presentation of characters in the first chapter can give a more personalised account of Pip’s life. Great Expectations was published in magazines with many issues. It was written in this way to create suspense so the reader would buy the next issue to find out what happens next.

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