Charles Dickens ‘Great expectations’ written in the 1850’s is a Victorian novel. ‘Great Expectations’ is about a young boy who grows up and moves from a lower class to being a gentleman. Dickens writes the story as an adult looking back at his childhood as a child would not be able to write a complete novel. Dickens was brought up in a middle class family. The character in the story is brought up in a middle class family, so he knows about poverty and abuse as he suffered from both. At the age of 12, Dickens parents were sent to the Marshalsea prison for debt. Dickens went to work in a blacking factory, earning less than a pittance a day. He worked in extreme bad conditions suffered by all children of the poor. Eventually the debt was paid off by other family members, so his family came out and dickens sent to school to fulfil his dreams of becoming a writer. As Dickens was living in poverty as a child it helped him write stories. He used his experience as inspiration. His stories reflect on the extreme conditions and suffering. In ‘Great expectations’ Dickens explores the classes and the justice system.
In the opening scene, Dickens purposely creates a dark, desolate atmosphere that surrounds young Pip. He also uses the idea of a black horizontal landscape. This highlights the danger, as Pip is alone. Dickens uses red, black, angry colours to describe the marshes and skyline. This links the atmosphere with death and blood, and brings Pip into the life of a criminal.
The beacon and the gibbet are the only things that are vertical and standing, as they are very important and have to stand out. This is because the beacons light guides people to safety. The gibbet is the place where criminals will go. We get a sense that if Pip does steal he will go to the gibbet.
Dickens cleverly associates the graveyard with the dark, mist and the howling winds. These provide the right atmosphere that corresponds to the gloomy, grey appearance of Magwitch, a criminal. Magwitch is described as being a “fearful man”, with a “terrible voice” and shuddering body. Pip is visiting his parents’ grave stone. We see Magwitch, hobbling and growling out of the mist, we see Magwitch as a ragged looking man. Dickens makes the night sound bleak and harsh, there is no one there but yet that is where Pips family are buried which may signify they are forgotten and abandoned. Magwitch is shown as an impolite character.
We know he is like this because he is a bully and speaks aggressively to Pip. “Hold your noise!” “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”. Also he is an escaped convict. The reader knows this because in the text he has got an ‘Iron’ on his leg. Magwitch appears to be a very mysterious character because when he is first introduced in the novel Charles Dickens doesn’t give his name or where he comes from. Dickens uses a range of negative words to describe Magwitch. “A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled.”
When Magwitch turns Pip upside down, it’s like Pip’s life is being turned around, from being a well brought up boy to a criminal. Dickens wrote this to show the idea of the change in Pip’s behaviour and manner towards criminality. The appearance of Magwitch, cut and stung by nettles, scares Pip, because he doesn’t want to become like him and look like that.
Pip is about to under go a disturbing experience as he enters Miss Havisham’s garden, as it is overgrown and tangled with weeds, “It was paved and clean, but grass was growing in every crevice”. Dickens describes it like this to show that it hasn’t been cared for and there’s no love, like the appearance of Miss Havisham. The courtyard is described as being lifeless and desolate; there are no animals, not a sound. “We came to Miss Havisham’s house, which was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it”. This gives the idea that the place is abandoned and empty. The noise of the wind is compared to the noise of the wind in the rigging of a ship (hulks prison ships), “it made a shrill noise in howling in and out at the open sides of the brewery, like the noise of wind in the rigging of a ship at sea”. This shows how quiet and scary the atmosphere was and how lonely Pip must have felt.
All the surrounding walls are very high, this gives Pip the feeling that he is trapped and there is no way out. The windows on the house are all walled up and covered in rusty iron bars. “Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred”. It gives the idea that the higher class (in the house) can not see out at people in the lower class etc. The main gate was also locked with chains, brings us to think Miss Havisham has set up her own prison. Dickens’ view on this is that the only way to enter the house is by money, so if you had money you would be in the higher class and can enter.
Next to the house is a deserted brewery, that hadn’t worked for a long time. “No brewing was going on in it, and none seemed to have gone on for a long long time”. Dickens uses this idea to show that the brewery had once worked; now all the better days have gone from Miss Havisham. All that is left are memories.
The passages leading to Miss Havisham’s room were very dark; this is a very unpleasant atmosphere for Pip to enter. The only little bit of hope in the house, in Dickens’ view, is Estella, as she had left a candle burning. Estella is another word for star and this is shown as all darkness is brightened by the candle shining its way up the stairs, just like a star. “Still it was all dark, and only the candle lighted us.”
As Pip entered Miss Havisham’s room there was no glimpse of daylight. The objects in Miss Havisham’s room were decayed and yellow. They had faded
over time like Miss Havisham, “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 and yellow”. She was dressed in a bridal dress, veil and shoes that had once been white and fitted her properly, but were now yellow and she had shrivelled inside her dress. Dickens has described her like this to show that she doesn’t want to change. That’s why she carries on wearing her wedding dress, because she doesn’t want to move on. Even though the bridal flowers in her hair had withered with the dress and the bride. Nothing’s changed in Miss Havisham’s room like the time on her clocks, this also shows that she doesn’t want to change, and she wants things to stay the same. “It was then I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago.”
After Pip spots the clock he is ordered to play. He does not question her and follows her order, this shows her authority. We see Miss Havisham as a strange lady because she desires to have a working class boy come to ‘play’. Estella reacts to this in the same way we do; she wonders why Miss Havisham would want a working class boy to play. “With this boy? Why, he is a common labouring boy!” .Then we realise it is part of Miss Havisham’s plan. She wants him to play and fall dearly in love with Estella so that she can break his heart, “Well? You can break his heart”. She wants revenge on men, as Compeyson broke her heart so she will break others. As more is revealed about Miss Havisham we find out that she is obsessed with her own death. “This is where I will be laid when I am dead, on the bridal table in my bridal dress.”
In “Great Expectations” Charles Dickens shows the difference in the Victorian
times to how society is now. He has criminals appearing on the marshes in the harsh and horrible conditions. Where as for the upper class people he has them living in the town in well-established houses such as the Satis (Miss Havisham’s) house.