Great Expectations is a light-hearted novel which follows the story of a young orphan by the name of ‘Phillip Pirrip’, known throughout the novel as ‘Pip’. The story revolves around the great expectations that this boy has of the world and how he wishes to become a ‘gentlemen’. The book is written as a ‘bildungsroman’ which, simply put, is a ‘coming of age’ novel. It usually entails the growth of the protagonist in not only body, but also mentality and mind throughout. We follow this child as he grows up from a timid, naive young boy to a complex man of many ideals. In this essay, I will be analyzing Dickens’s style of writing and how he enables us to sympathize with his characters. My main two focuses will be around chapters one and eight however, I will be using other chapters as a reference to my points.
The story starts off on a day none other than Christmas Eve, 1812. Our 7 year old protagonist encounters an escaped convict in the churchyard while he was visiting his family’s many graves. The convict threateningly demands Pip to steal him some ‘wittles’ (food) and a file to grind away his leg shackles. Pip, being timid in nature, easily became intimidated by the convict and obeys his demands. He soon goes home to his abusive sister and his brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, whom he considers to be an equal and a friend. The next day, he wakes up early in the morning to take what the convict had demanded of him. He then returns to the churchyard from a guilt-ridden trip, having done something he considered ‘evil’ for the first time. This is a key moment in the book for the convict had been shown kindness that he would never forget, albeit forced. This important event will serve for an important purpose later on in the story.
The convict later on gets captured by the police and Pip’s life soon returns to normal. He goes to a school run by the great aunt of a Mr. Wopsle. He soon becomes friends with ‘Biddy’, an orphan adopted by the Wopsles. Pip’s moderately wealthy uncle, ‘Mr. Pumblechook’, gets him invited to the house of a rich old woman by the name of Ms. Havisham. Here, he meets Estella, whom he soon grows and harbours a feeling of attraction that soon becomes obsessive. This love he holds for Estella motivates him to become more than a “common labouring boy”. He begins to tenaciously learn as much as he can from Biddy in school in an effort to impress Estella. He feels that one as “common” as himself isn’t worthy of someone as high class as her.
One afternoon, Pip encounters the convict he had first met on that eventful day in the churchyard, albeit not realizing it was the same person. He hands Pip 2 pounds and disappears, shocking the rest of Pip’s family. He also returns the file that he had long ago taken from Pip, giving Pip the idea that this person was related to ‘his convict’ in some way.
Soon after, Pip coincidentally makes his second visit to Ms. Havisham on her birthday. Here, Ms. Havisham gives insight to all the misfortune that befell her and it becomes clear that she holds a deep hatred for men. Pip soon meets a young boy named ‘Herbert Pocket’ and he is given the chance to kiss Estella on the cheek. He then goes home. This concludes the events up to chapter 11.
I will be mainly studying two characters throughout this essay. My first will be Pip and my second shall be Miss Havisham.
Phillip Pirrip, from an orphan to a grown man, is the narrator of Great Expectations. He himself is telling us the story of his past, as if he is reminiscing the moments himself. As we go along, we see the criticism that Pip has of his younger self and how he may have wished some things to proceed differently. Pip starts of as quite a young and innocent boy hoping to simply become a ‘gentleman’. We follow him through his moral clashes and watch him overcome his obstacles. We see as his character changes and how arrogance overcomes him as he becomes the ‘prized’ gentleman he so much desired.
But Pip isn’t a character that we can so easily lose our sympathy to. Even though he may have become an arrogant and highly conceited person, we still have that faith that he will turn into a true gentleman and not just some shallow-minded individual. But why would we keep this faith? What does Dickens do to make us so adore Pip despite his many problems and snobbish attitude?
Well, firstly, we followed Pip as he grew up. We gained firsthand access to his thoughts and emotions allowing us to understand him better. We watched him as he grew up from an innocent child to an adult. As we watched that innocent child and heard his thoughts, we began to be able to relate to him and soon we developed an attachment to him, feeling more curious as to what happens to him.
Secondly, during the first chapter, we come across a technique called ‘Pathetic Fallacy’. This is simply adding human attributes to that of an inanimate object. However, the pathetic fallacy that Dickens uses gives the feeling of a depressing atmosphere. Examples include: “bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard”, “dark flat wilderness”, “distant save lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea”, “small bundles of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip”. These quotes all serve one purpose: to bring us along with the atmosphere. To make us feel depressed, gloomy and bleak as we follow along with the story. This all makes us able to feel sympathy to Pip. We are able to feel the depression he feels caused by this gloomy place. It begins to feel as if the place is real, and the dull, grey surroundings overtake us. The last quote “small bundles of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip” shows us how scared and lonely he feels, being here with his deceased family; how he feels truly isolated, trapped in this world filled with what he has only seen as abuse and tyranny he received from his sister. The churchyard is a retreat for him; where he is able to go back to his family and just think. To him, it’s a place where he can dream for the future and build up his ‘great expectations’.
Chapter 1 is a key point in the novel. Not only because it introduces the story and the characters, but because of the contact Pip has with the convict, who is named Magwitch. The kindness and innocence of Pip reminds Magwitch of his own child whom he assumes to be dead. He later plays a big role in the adult life of Pip.
The event is set in a church yard. Pip is visiting the tombstones of his deceased parents and siblings. Due to never having any idea as to how his parents act nor look, he builds up the image of from his childish imagination. The basis comes from the inscription of the tombstone, this being the only connection he has left of them in the world. For example: ‘The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a short, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.’ This thought shows us that he was quite childlike, yet also mature in a sense and imaginative.
The second person I am going to study is Miss Havisham.
Miss Havisham is a troubled old lady living a wealthy yet empty life. She has a deep grudge against men, due to being conned and abandoned by her ‘lover’. To Pip, she is the closest means to becoming a gentleman, for she possesses the power to become his benefactor in his goal. She is also the person that connects him and Estella, thus playing an important role in the novel.
Miss Havisham represents the depression and hatred caused by men to women. In a way, time had frozen for her on the day she was betrayed, and thus she symbolizes this by freezing clocks on the exact point in which she had learnt of her betrayal. Time had no meaning to her after this and she kept no track of ‘days and nights’. She kept away from the outside world and isolated herself into her room.
Dickens creates sympathy for Miss Havisham by the things he tells us about her in the story. The way she’s withering away, turning colourless, frozen in time and how she’s ‘incomplete’ all add up as factors of sympathy. The metaphorical writing also gives us an example of the ill-fate that had possessed her. For example: “But, I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded with yellow”, “a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress”, “waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.
However, though there are things causing her to be sympathetic, there are many things causing her to be unsympathetic.
She takes her hate of men overboard. She feels that she needs to take revenge on all men, concluding that all men are evil. And to her, it’s just a game and people are just pawns. For example, Pip is used as a pawn while Ms Havisham is a majestic ‘queen’ in her sick game of revenge. Estella is a reincarnation of her hatred and Estella herself is used by Ms. Havisham as a way to get back to all men, due to her own inability to do so. People see this as evil and the poor sympathetic Pip is just being used. This causes Miss Havisham to be duly hated by some.
Overall, Dickens uses emotions as a way to control the reader’s emotions; whether he uses them to make you take a liking to the character, or to hate the character. Pip’s innocence is what makes him so sympathetic while Miss Havisham’s disregard of other’s emotions is what makes her so hated.
Great Expectations was a book where the characters came to life. It was an exhilarating read as you felt the characters within you. You didn’t just follow the characters adventure throughout; you followed through their suffering, their pain and their joy. The book was a journey of up and downs and overall, it was an excellent read.