How does Dickens Create vivid and Memorable Characters in the Novel Great Expectations? Essay Sample
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Introduction of TOPIC
Charles Dickens is renowned for the characters he creates in his novels. Many have become famous literary characters, for example Scrooge and Oliver Twist. Both of these characters are known even if someone is not familiar with the story they are both set in. Dickens’ characters are so well known because he creates a variety of character types. Some characters are ‘real’ and change and develop throughout the novel like a person really would. Pip, from ‘Great Expectations’ is a perfect example of this. Other characters are satirical; Dickens exaggerates their traits so much that they become like cartoon characters. They are humorous characters and are funny. Pumblechook and Mrs. Gargery from Great Expectations are examples of satirical characters.
All of the characters in ‘Great Expectations’ are isolated in one way or another. Miss Havisham has been isolated by choice because she is stuck in the past due to situations that have happened previously. Wemmick is isolated when he is at home by choice. This is because he works near Newgate Gaol and wants to escape work when he is at home. Magwitch, however, has been forced to be isolated. He has been cut off from society because he is a criminal. With all characters, Dickens uses setting, dialogue, physical description and reactions to create vivid personalities.
When Pip first meets Magwitch, he is in a graveyard at night, in a harsh “dark, flat wilderness”. Dickens uses pathetic fallacy, which means that the environment a character is introduced in reflects the personality of that character. The setting creates a threatening and scary atmosphere making Magwitch’s appearance all that more scary. By appearing in the “raw” “savage lair” of the marsh, it implies that Magwitch himself is raw and savage-like. Pip’s situation at the time when Magwitch is introduced makes Pip seem vulnerable, like a “small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all” so in comparison Magwitch seems far more threatening than he may really be. This is also shown by his physical description of Magwitch. Dickens uses active verbs such as “limped” “shivered” and “glared”. This makes Magwich seem animal-like, emphasising his savageness. However Dickens also uses passive verbs like “smothered” “lamed” and “cut” alongside them making Magwitch seem abused. Together, this arouses the readers’ sympathy as it makes him seem like an abused animal. He is described as a “course grey” man “with a great iron on his leg.” From this we can learn that he is an escaped convict and also of a low status in society. This shows his is isolated as, as he is a convict, he is not free to mix in with people. However, he has not chosen this, the law has.
Pip’s first reaction to Magwitch is terror. He believes his threats and pleads with him not to carry them out, “Don’t cut my throat, sir!” He is scared of the young man Magwitch describes, however Pip also notices the state the convict is in, and how vulnerable he actually is. This does not make him less frightened, but helps to arouse the readers’ sympathy as his desperation is obvious. This is also shown by the dialogue he uses. He uses imperatives like “Quick!” “Tell” and “Show”. This makes Magwitch seem desperate implying that he is actually quite vulnerable himself. He also uses threats like “Keep still…or I’ll cut your throat!” and “Lord strike you dead it you don’t!” to try and scare Pip, but deep down he knows he can’t carry the threats out. This is shown in lines 92 to 103 when Magwitch is describing a young man. He had to create an alter-ego to frighten Pip as he knows he is not frightening enough. We can also tell by his dialogue that he is quite uneducated. Phonetic spellings such as “partickler” and “pecoolier” help the reader to hear how Magwitch is saying the words and the accent he uses, conveying his lower class status.
Dickens also uses actions to make Magwitch seem desperate. Magwitch uses very physical and intimidating actions. He physically picks Pip up and holds him upside down to empty his pockets. This shows desperation as he obviously can’t wait for Pip to empty his pockets himself. Pip’s reaction to this was “sudden and strong”. Dickens uses Pip’s weakness to emphasise Magwitch’s strength which conveys his intimidation. Also the phrase “threatening shake of his head” shows his threatening nature. However, in contrast, when Pip says his mother is “There, sir” Magwitch makes a “short run”. This shows him to be softer, possibly more of a victim. The phrase “hugged his shuddering body” helps convey him to be a victim as it makes the reader feel sorry for him as he seems as vulnerable as Pip is.
Finally at the end of the chapter Dickens puts an ominous cloud over the character of Magwitch. He describes how everything over the horizon is horizontal. The marshes were “just a long, black, horizontal line” and the river was “just another horizontal line” and the sky “was just a row of long, angry, red lines and dense black lines intermixed.” Dickens describes only two vertical objects in the whole view; a beacon and a gibbet “which had once held a pirate”. Magwitch limps towards the gibbet “as if he were the pirate come to life … and going back to hook himself up again.” Dickens uses this description to show that Magwhich is very close to death and is doomed; again making him seem desperate and vulnerable whilst arousing the readers’ sympathy.
Dickens introduces Miss. Havisham in her home – Satis house. It has huge iron gates on the outside. T
his helps convey how she is isolated from society. However, unlike Magwitch, she is isolated because
It also gives the impression that time has stopped in her house and everything has been left the way it was when she was jilted on her wedding day. This is also shown in the phrase “everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago.” Dickens also hints as to why she is the way she is through her physical description. She is wearing “satins, and lace, and silks” which are all rich materials, again, indicating that she is of high-status and wealthy. However they are “all of white” and “she had a long white veil” showing that time stopped for her when her husband-to-be did not arrive on the wedding day. From lines 7 to 14 we see that she is living in the past, for she had “not quite finished dressing”.
Dickens compares Miss Havisham metaphorically to a flower that is withered and dead, conveying that Miss Havisham herself is fragile. Dickens uses a skeletal image of Miss Havisham. He describes her eyes as “sunken” and her figure “had shrunk to skin and bone” which gives the reader and image of decay as does the phrase “everything within my view, which ought to be white, had been white long ago…and was faded and yellow.” Dickens says she sat “corpse-like” with her “bridal dress looking like earthy paper” which once again suggests crumbling and decay, and links back to the flower metaphor.
Pip’s reaction to Miss Havisham is summed up in the phrase “sat the strangest lady I have ever seen, or shall ever see”. He finds her peculiar, but also, similar to the way he feels about Magwitch, is he is scared. The phrase “I felt myself so unequal to the performance” shows that Pip also felt inferior to her, this could be because she was so patronising to him. This is shown again, with Pip’s reaction to Estella, “Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.”
Dickens uses dialogue to create the character of Miss Havisham. Throughout the whole extract, she speaks to him in only questions and imperatives. Like Magwitch, she commands him to do things. However the purpose is different. She does it because she feels she has a right to humiliate him and that she feels she has power over him, whereas Magwitch did it through desperation. The questions she uses are designed to intimidate and patronise him, “Are you sullen and obstinate?” She talks about him as if he is an animal, “Let him have something to eat, and then let him roam” which also conveys that she feels superior to him. When Miss Havisham says ‘”Broken!”‘ it hints to the audience that having Pip there is to seek revenge. This is reinforced by when she says ‘”Play, play, play!”‘ and the reader realises that she actually means ‘Play with his heart.’ Her plan is revealed even further when she says to Estella ‘”You can break his heart.”‘
Dickens reinforces the plan in Miss Havisham’s actions. When Estella enters she “beckoned her to come close, and took up a jewel from the table, and tried its effect upon her fair young bosom” suggesting that Estella is her protï¿½gï¿½ and is there to reek Miss Havisham’s revenge. Miss Havisham uses an “impatient movement of the fingers” throughout Pip’s visit. At first it is to direct him, and the second time it’s to stop him from speaking. This shows her lack of respect and reinforces the fact that she feels she has power over him, which is very different as to how Magwhich acted, as he was very physical, but Miss Havisham has no contact with him at all, showing that even though both characters intimidate and frighten Pip it was for two very different reasons and the characters themselves are very different.
The third character in ‘Great Expectations’ who is isolated is Wemmick. Like Miss Havisham, he has done it of his own accord. The reason is that he works for Jaggers opposite Newgate Gaol and doesn’t want his home life to remind him of it. In this extract Pip goes to Wemmick’s house which was located amongst “black lanes, ditches, and little gardens.” This first description tells us that Wemmick is not of a high status or very wealthy. Dickens uses the phrase “rather dull retirement” to convey that the character of Wemmick is rather dull too. Dickens creates an image in the reader’s mind of the house. He describes that the “top of it was cut out and painted like a battery mounted with guns” and the bridge which he hoists up to “cut off communication.” This firstly emphasises that Wemmick is isolating himself, but the house itself, shows Wemmick to be quite eccentric. Approaching the house, Wemmick and Pip walk on an “ingenious twists of paths” which makes the house seem bigger, creating an image that Wemmick is higher in society than he really is.
Unlike in the other two extracts, here, Dickens does not use physical description to characterise Wemmick at all. Mainly Dickens uses dialogue and Pip’s reaction to show the reader Wemmick’s character. Pip seems snobbish throughout the extract, “the smallest house I ever saw” and saying the “bridge was a plank”. This makes the reader fonder of Wemmick as it makes them sympathise with him. This becomes more apparent when Wemmick introduces Pip to his father. Dickens makes it clear that Wemmick likes to please his father which helps convey to the audience that, unlike the other two characters; he is warm, affectionate and caring. The reader automatically compares him to Pip who was so embarrassed of Joe and his family. Therefore, Dickens has put Pip in a negative light; making the reader fonder of Wemmick and making him seem like the better person.
From Wemmick’s dialogue we can tell that he notices Pip’s snobbishness, and is trying to impress him and cares what he thinks. This is shown when he says “I don’t know whether that’s your opinion.” Like with Magwitch, Dickens uses grammatical inaccuracies in the characters dialogue to show us that Wemmick does not come from a well-educated background, “looks pretty; don’t it?” which emphasises that he is not of a high status. It reveals him to be a typical Victorian self-made man who has made his way up in society.
Wemmick repeats the words “my own” throughout the extract. This shows that he is a proud man, and also that he has done all the work on his house himself, conveying that he is a practical man as well as inventive. However, despite his bad grammar he uses complex vocabulary like “impede” and “principle” alongside complex sentence construction. This shows that he is an erratic character and also quite excitable. Dickens also uses dialogue to hint to us, like he did with Miss Havisham, as to why the character is isolated, “the office is one thing, and the private life is another.”
Finally Dickens uses actions to characterise. Words like “conducted” help show Wemmicks pride for his home and where he lives, and the way he hoists things up “smiling as he does so” to show Pip, emphasises this. However, it also shows that he is a simple character, unlike the other two, and is pleased by many things. When Wemmick, asks Pip if her would “nod away” at the Aged, shows that he is not embarrassed at all of his house or his family. By doing this, Dickens makes the reader very fond of Wemmick, unlike with the other two characters, who don’t appeal to the audience in a very positive light.
In conclusion, my favourite character from these three extracts is Wemmick. I think it is because Dickens uses all his techniques to try and make the reader empathise with him, and it works. The reader becomes fond of him and therefore likes him more. However, the most memorable character is Miss Havisham. I feel this is because she is very strange and the description of her is very vivid so therefore she sticks in the readers mind.