Great Expectations is the story of Pip, on his journey through life as he attempts to become a gentleman. Dickens wrote the novel for a magazine, with a chapter appearing each week. Because of this, almost every chapter contains a cliff hanger. The underlining theme of the novel is that of self betterment. Dickens uses a variety of techniques to direct the readers’ emotions throughout “Great Expectations”, including atmospheric tension, repetition and rhyme, the narration by Pip and literary allusion.
Dickens creates atmosphere and appeals to the senses. This is evident throughout the novel, but nowhere more so than in the first chapter. Dickens captivates the audience in the first chapter to keep them reading throughout the novel, through his long descriptive sentences: “A man (Magwitch) 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; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.” The repetition of the word “and”; as well as the length of the sentence, emphasises how many different things have happened to Magwitch.
The atmosphere Dickens creates for the audience builds tension, as they know that something is about to happen, but do not know what. This keeps the audience on the edge of their seat. This method of cliffhanging would not only have kept the novel interesting, but it would have made sure that the readership bought next week’s edition of the newspaper.
The use of personification by Dickens is another method used to add to the atmosphere of a scene: “Occasionally, the smoke came rolling down the chimney as though it could not bear to go out into such a night…” This suggests that even the smoke is intimidated by the weather outside. This metaphor easily builds up a picture of what the atmosphere outside is like, without the need to constantly use lengthy descriptive passages. Variation in the novel is important, as it helps to keep the readership interested; Dickens was very much aware that using the same techniques over and over will eventually bore the reader.
One of the techniques that Dickens uses to direct the readers emotions is the use of repetition and rhyme. This gives the passage it is used in an incantatory feel, making it stick in the readers mind: “It was wretched weather, stormy and wet, stormy and wet; mud, mud, mud deep in all the streets.” This repetition of what the weather was like keeps it in the readers mind, emphasising the importance of the weather in this chapter. The weather is important as it is the same as it was in chapter one, where Pip first meets Magwitch. Dickens gives the readership these subtle hints to build up to Pip finding that Magwitch is his benefactor.
The other major hint of the first chapter is the references to the fact that Magwitch is a criminal: “shook the house that night, like discharges of cannon, or breakings of a sea. The rain came with it and dashed against the window.” The reference to the cannons can be linked to when the cannons on the prison ship signalled that the guards could come aboard. Also, the language in the quote shows Pips isolation and fear, as he is alone in his house at the time: “What nervous folly made me start, and awfully connect it with the footstep of my dead sister, matters not.” The atmosphere and Pips isolation make his mind wander, eventually leading to him thinking about his dead sister.
Dickens purposefully stretches this descriptive passage over several pages to keep the tension high. Also, this allows him to control the pace of the text, directing the readers’ emotions. For example, short and fast sentences will convey a sense of panic or tension. Furthermore, it intensifies the gothic and gloomy atmosphere (an atmosphere also present in Miss Havisham’s House) Pip describes Miss Havisham’s room as, “…this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed from could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.” The emotive language such as withered adds to the gothic effect.
The readers’ emotions towards the characters in the novel are directed by Dickens through the narration by Pip. As we see everything through Pip’s “older” eyes, we take on his views on other people. Pip’s innocence means that he sees people’s actions at the extremes; good or bad, with nothing in between. For example, he sees getting the file and whittles for the convict as something totally bad; and Estella as a nice person, despite the constant abuse that she gives him.
Pip also associates characters with single traits. He sees Jaggers continually washing his hands (this could be metaphorical that he is washing his hands after doing the dirty job of defending guilty men); Miss Havisham persistently reminisces about her would be husband (to the point that she stops the clocks so they show the moment he left her at the altar); and Pumblechook constantly fires maths questions at Pip.
Pip is what is known as a “retrospective” narrator, thus giving us his experiences from his own perspective and at a later reflection. This gives “Great Expectations” a complexity unparalleled in any other of Dickens’s novels. This means that Pip can talk about events that have happened in the past, as well as talking about what is happening at the current moment. This allows the readership to read Pip’s point of view before and after he becomes a gentleman; showing the reader how being a gentleman affects your point of view. One example is how the readership sees him transform into a “snob”. This becomes evident in the novel when Pip would rather his fortune came from Miss Havisham (who has inherited all of her money) than Magwitch (who has worked his life to earn the money).
The use of characters names by Dickens is an important factor in showing what will happen later in the novel. The name Pip suggests that he will blossom (into a gentleman) under the right conditions. Estella means star, which hints that Pip is going beyond himself in his attempts to woo her. Abel is Magwitch’s Christian name, which is connected to Cain’s brother, who was a sheep farmer. Abel and Cain were the the two sons of Adam and Eve. In Genesis, Cain kills Abel. Cain could be referring to Compeyson, the other convict who escapes with Magwitch.
As “Great Expectations” was written when books were one of the only sources of entertainment, most people would have read much more that they do today. Because of this, Dickens uses literary allusion throughout the novel. These links include “Hamlet” being performed in a later chapter; Pumblechook reciting speech from “Richard III”; references to Universal Struggle in Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”; and the likening of Pip and Estella at the end of the novel to “Paradise Lost”.
To conclude, Dickens uses a wide variety of techniques to direct the readers’ emotions throughout “Great Expectations”; from emotive language to the use of a retrospective narrator. All of the different techniques used together in the novel make it the best book by Dickens, as they give “Great Expectations” a complexity unparalleled in any of his other works.