How does Dickens Create Characters that are Both Memorable and Striking? Essay Sample
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Introduction of TOPIC
Have you ever looked at a Charles Dickens novel and thought how uninspiring it would be? It actually surprised me how interesting it was, compared to my perception of a stereotypical Dickens “work of fiction”. “Great Expectations”, I think, is rightly considered one of the greatest novels of all-time.
The depth it goes into is hard to believe, following its central character, the orphan boy, Pip, from his early childhood through his later times, becoming a gentleman. Some people believed that what separated a gentleman from the common people was merely money, and that anybody rich enough, or high-born enough, could be a gentleman. True refinement, is a feature of the heart not money; a gentleman is always considerate and kind to others, always gracious and long-suffering, always lives by precepts of love and honour, which I think is also a feature Charles Dickens tries to make people understand in “Great Expectations”
Of the many wealthy people that Pip meets in the story, most are coarse and brutish, like Bentley Drummle or sly and self-serving, like Jaggers, and are no gentleman.
The truest man in the novel is Joe Gargery, a humble blacksmith in outwards appearance, but with a gentleman’s heart and soul. Pip himself learns that it needs more than money and status to make him a gentleman; his ‘expectations’ of gentility turn into something greater still.
During the course of his life, we encounter an extensive collection of basic human emotions: love, sadness, despair, pity, empathy, social class, betrayal — and on and on. The story is valued and untouchable for many reasons. One of its main advantages is the plot: after a fairly slow introduction, Dickens writes his story in a faster pace and delivers a shrewd and exciting story that never loses clarity or an element of revelation. The complex plotline, full of separate stories and incidents that seem totally unrelated to each other, but are then all connected together as the book heads straight toward its ending, is also full of constant plot twists, which continue up until, basically the last paragraph.
Of course, as with all of most of Dickens works, such as “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol” it is the characters that make the book. I think that Dickens preferred to have the story develop through the characters, rather than having the characters be simple playing pieces to be played about with inside an overpowering tale. What great characters they are: the troubled traditional but largely human Pip; the bitter and mysterious Miss Havisham and the seemingly Siamese Wemmick – and all of the other wonderful characters. Dickens excels in creating well-rounded, very human characters that protect real and intricate emotions. Through social class and the difference between Pip’s “coarse” beginning and Estella’s rich nurture, we really see the importance that status must have produced at the time of the Victorians. The split of really, the rich town’s people and the country life sets the general theme throughout the novel, “Great Expectations”.
The title “Great Expectations” has a double meaning. Pip has low prospects of himself, until he meets Estella. After this meeting, he slowly starts to see himself differently. Pip has “great expectations” of himself, as he wishes himself to become a gentleman. The other meaning is that numerous people have expectations of Pip also, which sometimes vary. Some expect little of him such as Estella, yet others such as Abel Magwitch expect much of him. Pip goes from being a “coarse” young boy to a “gentleman of great expectations”.
The first character that I am going to analyse is Pip, or by his full name, Phillip Pirrip. We identify with Pip as he winds through his life, because we have experienced some similar feelings, the disappointment, the surprise, the love, the shock, and the sadness.. For all of his entwined sentiments, Pip is a recognisably human character – and that is why we love him and this book.
There is great unity in the novel and is partially about guilt and shame. These ideas are reinforced in many ways. Pip is made to feel guilty as a child from his sister. Mrs Joe Gargery says, “Who brought you up by hand…and why did I do it, I should like to know…I’d never do it again” and says himself “I was always treated as if I had insisted on being born.” This makes us have pity for him and feel quite sorry of his situation. He also has a great cause for his guilt in dealing with Magwitch. Pip feels shame at his low or poor upbringing. We see evidence of this when he says, “They troubled me now as vulgar appendages” and “It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home.” We gradually see Pip contrast the elegant Estella, she calls him a “common labouring boy” and says that his boots are “thick” and his hands are “coarse”, with the disgusting criminal Magwitch. Pip’s shame at his origin fuels his desire to become a “gentleman” and the novel is so much about what makes one.
Dickens convincingly describes the overbearing sense with which guilt can play on a young boy’s mind. Pip is repeatedly told by his sister and Uncle Pumblechook that he lacks any gratitude (for those who “brought him up by hand”) and that the young are “naterally wicious”. This makes him feel inadequate and unable to do what people want him to do. This would make him feel shame also that he cannot be grateful for what people have done for him. He senses injustice or unfairness of these views, yet is denied opportunity to discuss it, as is Joe, who sees that defending Pip leads to his own bad treatment. When Magwitch forces Pip to steal from the Forge, Pip believes he is guilty of a serious crime, “This was very disagreeable to a guilty mind” almost talking to himself, deliberating how serious his “crime” was, although is unable to confide in Joe. He wrongly fears that he will lose Joe’s affection. Magwitch’s so called “confession” to the theft that Pip committed, and Uncle Pumblechook’s ludicrous “explanation” of it further deepens Pip’s troubles. In Chapter 3, he sees “accusers” in the mist, being the “clerical ox” and “phantom” finger -post. In the next chapter, he sees how accusing remarks about the general wickedness of youth are almost directed at him, even though he is aware that as yet, Uncle Pumblechook has no reason to accuse him of failure, he still knows he has committed a crime which at any time he could be discovered for. “I was in an agony of apprehension” and “I fully expected to find a Constable in the kitchen waiting to take me up.” This proves that he is so ashamed and antagonised of his behaviour.
Pip’s visit to Satis or Enough House leads to his awareness of himself as “coarse” and “common”; he is embarrassed of the limitations imposed on him because of his social class. The stranger with the file in the Jolly Bargeman and his fight with the “pale young gentleman”-Herbert Pocket-only added to Pip’s thoughts of error. Even the way he describes Herbert when looking back on the event as “pale” which makes him seem sick almost and like Pip sees it as a mistake to prey on an ill boy. Pip’s long visit to Miss Havisham gives Orlick the motive and opportunity to attack Mrs. Joe. At first, Pip thinks himself guilty and is still troubled by having provided the weapon “however undesignedly” and thinks about telling Joe, but doesn’t. This shows his misunderstanding that his relationship with Joe will be jeopardised if he does so.
Pip becomes wrongly ashamed of his home and occupation and desperate to rise socially, however know this to be impossible. The discovery of his “great expectations” and the unusual secrecy of his benefactor lead Pip into an error of which neither Miss Havisham nor Mr Jaggers cares to enlighten him. He becomes proud and considers ways to make Joe a suitable companion, although hiding him from his London “friends”. He is uncomfortable in behaving this way, but not enough to alter his conduct. As narrator, the older, wiser Pip is filled with shame for his betrayal of Joe.
Pip is proud to take the inherited money as he thinks Miss Havisham is his benefactor. By hard work i
n an honest occupation, Magwitch had earned the wealth to make “a gentleman of his boy”.
Pip as a child has an exaggerated sense of guilt nevertheless he has enough awareness to doubt Mrs Joe’s, Hubble’s and Uncle Pumblechook’s view of the young. He trusts Joe’s judgement but too soon mistakes Joe’s lack of learning for lack of wisdom. His association with Magwitch wrongly troubles him and his horror of the man, is exaggerated by his love of Estella. When he goes to London, any guilt that Pip has at his sins is lost in snobbish sense of shame at the degraded social status of the convict and the thought of connection would strike Estella. In the last chapter Estella views her paternity without disgust, and with the death of Magwitch and Joe’s reappearance in the novel, the snobbery gives way to an open confident display of love and gratitude. In describing Biddy’s hand in the last chapter, he says that it had a “very pretty eloquence in it.” In saying this, we know that selfishness has gone, for compliment and kindness to take it’s place. He also says to Biddy and Joe, “in charity and love with all mankind, receive my humble thanks for all you have done for me.” This shows the gratitude he has redeemed from his childhood condition.
Without any great variation in Pip’s own narrative style, vast ranges of characters are introduced. This is largely achieved by letting them speak for themselves rather than putting them in a text of Pip’s personal overview or summary of events. Pip is able to convey the viewpoint of both his younger self from the simple child of the opening to the young man of the middle section and the more mature narrator. Noticeably, Pip does not change his name to its original state of Phillip Pirrip throughout the book, which is interesting. I would have thought that as growing up, he would have a grown up name, yet his name remains as Pip, therefore showing his original status was kept inside all of the time whilst he was growing through snobbery. Dickens allows Pip to speak with a distinctive voice, “That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day” and “…the saddened softened light of the once proud eyes; what I had never felt before, was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand.” This shows the vivid story telling and the fluent and varied description used. Honesty is now shown and we get to know Pip as a real person with real feelings.
The next character I am going to analyse is Miss Havisham. I firstly would like to mention that I think Charles Dickens uses “Miss” as a constant emphasis of frustration at not being married, not being Mrs. This creates the image straight away that a woman of this age is lonely and has no one there to end her life, but her treasured adopted daughter, Estella.
When Pip first meets Miss Havisham, we hear the greatest description to be written throughout this meeting between them. Pip’s description of this “withered” woman relates her very much to death. He says she is a “skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress…dug out of a vault under the church pavement.” Constantly comparing her to a skeleton with this metaphor makes us notice exactly the way that Pip views her. Her appearance gives a whole impression of what her mood is going to be whenever we see her-somewhat dead and forgotten, similar to a corpse. The repetition of “skeleton” and “church” and the use of “sunken” and “shrunk” make us almost fear her when related to death and then pity her when we see her degraded figure in the wedding dress that was never used. In addition, the terms that relate to religion make us think more about her wedding, which is meant to be a lasting impression throughout our experiences of her character. We do start to feel truly sorry for Miss Havisham when she is sitting in a “ragged chair” and she catches fire. I think that describing the chair as ragged is also making a near relation to Miss Havisham as being like the chair, as a ragged or worn out woman.
Before we see her in a “whirl of fire” and “shrieking” when she is alight from her fire, we do not have so much compassion for her as she almost feels sorry for herself. When Pip first meets Miss Havisham, one of the first comments she makes is “What do I touch?” Pip answers when he sees her holding her left side “Your heart.” She then snaps back “Broken” and then it says in text, she “slowly took them away as if they were heavy” referring to her hands. This makes Miss Havisham seem melodramatic and sorry for herself, the way she slowly moves them away, virtually accentuating the heaviness. It is a strain or effort to do a simple action. This makes her seem dramatic and a little eccentric.
When Pip first looks at Miss Havisham’s appearance, he mentions a contrast of white and yellow. Dickens writes through Pip’s eyes, “all of white…Her shoes were white…She had a long white veil…her hair was white” and then “faded and yellow” “no brightness left” and “ghostly waxwork”. The constant repetition of white and the contrast of death and past life make us see the hope she had before her life was “ruined” and now that she has faded. This also highlights the strain of the wedding on her and her surroundings. The name of her house “Satis” is the Greek for enough, which is supposed to mean that anyone who bought the house would have all happiness in it and not need any other pleasures in life “could want nothing else”. I do not think this meaning is adequate for Miss Havisham’s purpose, and it is more likely for it to mean that she has had enough of life, enough of people and enough of the entire male sex.
Pip feels so uncomfortable during his visit to Miss Havisham’s house. I think that this is because he is in a place that is unusual to be in, seeing the decay like state that the house and Miss Havisham are in. He says that he is an “unfortunate boy” and that he was “avoiding her eyes”; as she makes Pip feel uneasy and scared to look at her even, as she orders him to do things. “I have a sick fancy that I want to see some play” is what she tells Pip to do which makes us fell as if she is quite unusual, eccentric and out of the ordinary. Moreover, I almost feel pity again for her, as it is quite strange that someone has not seen that much adventure for many years, she needs to get someone else to do it for her. The essence of having no eye contact also makes her seem like she has no strong relationships with anyone, or any strong emotions.
The last character I will evaluate is Mr Wemmick, Mr Jaggers’ clerk. His face is expressionless, which we learn when Pip first meets him, “A dry man…with a square wooden face, whose expression seemed to have been imperfectly chipped out” and in describing his expressions “His mouth was such a post-box mouth that he had a mechanical appearance of smiling…not smiling at all.” This proves that at work, Mr Wemmick is very stern and takes his job very seriously. The appearance of a post-box and chiselled out of wood makes us see him as a inflexible man with no emotion, except for respect for his workplace and job. At home in Walworth, being an entirely different person, kind and caring, delighting his “aged parent” with the drawbridge, and even in calling him aged or old, we see his respect for people.
This comparison of respect shows the total difference in Wemmick’s personality, making him seem like he has a split or twin personality. Mr. Jaggers respects his privacy and knows nothing of his Walworth home, showing that Wemmick likes to keep his work and home life separate. Wemmick says when Pip asks if Mr. Jaggers admires his house, “Never heard of it. Never seen the Aged. Never heard of him. No; the office is one thing, and private life is another…I don’t wish it professionally spoken about.” This suggests that Wemmick would not like Jaggers to know about his home or it would ruin their “professional” relationship. Furthermore, I think that Wemmick believes his work is based on fact and legality, whereas home life is more based upon your own wishes and not necessarily order. He generally uses emotion based upon the heart in Walworth, whereas in work, he uses emotion of an authority or a passion to satisfy work.
Wemmick has a lot of respect for Pip, always asking him things or if he is well. When Wemmick talks about his fortifications, he asks, “I don’t know if that’s your opinion” “You wouldn’t mind” and “It wouldn’t put you out.” This shows Wemmick is very polite although feels that Pip is superior to him and there is a distance because Pip is a client, no matter what he does in his free time.
Pip is very eager to please Wemmick, obliging to his queries quickly and efficiently. When Wemmick asks him to meet the Aged, Pip says, “I expressed the readiness I felt”. He is trying to please Wemmick by doing what he wants him to do. Additionally, I think Pip really wants to respect Wemmick, as he says, “I felt my good faith involved in the observance of his request.” Pip here is trying to obey his wishes. I think that when Pip says that Wemmick’s house is “ingenious”, he is respecting him again, is impressed, yet is just glad to meet people who have love for each other like Wemmick and the Aged.
We can see that Mr. Wemmick is proud of his possessions and achievements, as he firstly says about his house when Pip looks at it, “My own doing…Looks pretty don’t it?” This shows he has pride in what he has done and is looking at or admiring his accomplishments. What is more, in Pip’s opinion, he says, ” It was very pleasant to see the pride…smiling as he did so, with a relish and not merely mechanically…” referring back the office reference. This shows that Pip even notices Wemmick’s pride at this point. The time is taken to show Pip his home; therefore, the appreciation is put across.
From the points I have made, you can see that Charles Dickens truly does create outstanding characters that are both memorable and striking. Through observation as a basis of characterization and the eccentricity and idiosyncrasies of particular individuals, especially through curious habits or physical appearance descriptions, moral and social qualities are shown, and we grow to love every one of the characters in “Great Expectations”. From Magwitch to Miss Havisham and Joe to Pip, humour and satire are used through kind laughter and cruel jokes and Charles Dickens gradually unfolds the details of the characters, so their identity remains a secret and you have to read on.