How does Charles Dickens create characters that are both memorable and striking in the novel ‘Great Expectations’ Essay Sample
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In ‘Great Expectations’ Charles Dickens shows his marvellous talent by creating archetypal characters that readers can genuinely sympathise with and relate to. With an intricate mix of dialogues, direct description, setting and atmosphere, Dickens fashions characters that are striking and memorable. He utilises the characters to a great effect in order to shed light on the Victorian class system, and his views on it. Great Expectations is set in a period very different to ours, it is in the Victorian period. A period in which the class system was important.
The class system ‘refers to the ranking of people into a hierarchy within a culture’ (Wikipedia). There was a large contrast in those times, between those at the top, the rich, and those at the bottom, the poor. In real life, it was widely known that Dickens did not like the rich and the power that they wielded over others. This is why he portrays the rich in a bad light and the poor in a good light. This is a habit of Dickens’ that he uses in other books as well, for example, Oliver Twist. Again, Dickens’ uses the same method in this book, by outlining the changes in Pip’s attitude when he goes from being ‘common’ to a ‘gentlemen’.
This makes the characters memorable and striking to the reader as Dickens uses a stereotypical approach, the evil rich person versus good poor hero. Great Expectations presents the reader with the development and growth of a character by the name of Phillip Pirrip, or Pip. He is by far the most important character. It seems that there really are two Pips in the book; he is both the protagonist, whose actions make up the main plot of the novel, and the narrator, whose thoughts, actions and reaction help change the readers’ perspective and judgement.
In other words, they see everything through the eyes of this ‘common boy’ which makes the reader relate to him thus making him more striking and memorable. Dickens carefully separates the two Pips in the story; one tells his story and the other provides the readers with insight about what is actually happening to him and how he feels about it. This is best seen right at the start of the book with the quote “Who gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in that universal struggle… ” This quote is sarcastic and uses words such as ‘universal’ and ‘exceedingly’, words that would not normally be used by a small child.
This suggests that there may be an older, more intelligent and more arrogant Phillip that is giving his forthright views on the point about his siblings. This subtle change is persona makes both Pips more striking as the readers are not just reading the story from one point of view. They are reading it from two points of view. This gives them a better view of the situations that occur as the narrators are relating to them. This makes the two Pips more striking and it also plants a seed of doubt about Pip’s attitude when he is older in the readers’ minds.
These quotes are in vast contrast with the simple trains of thought that comes out of Pip in the first paragraph such as “… the shape of the letters on my father’s (gravestone), gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. ” Comparing this quote with the one at the start of the paragraph shows the difference between the two Pips. It shows how money and class may have damaged young Pip’s kind nature and turned him into a sarcastic, arrogant person who did not really appreciate everything he was given when he was a ‘common boy’.
This contrast serves two purposes (this contrast is only one example, more of these contrasted will also be mentioned later on in the essay). Firstly, we are given Dickens’ view on how money can change a person and how the rich people are always so ‘evil’. Secondly, we see glimpses of the stereotypical battle between evil people and good poor people. This battle, however, is not between two different characters, but two different personas of the same person. This contrast between the same person’s two different mindsets makes them unforgettable as the readers are greatly intrigued by it.
We also feel sympathy for Pip when we are told what his current condition is. We find out that his parents have died along with his five little brothers. Also, When Magwitch threatens him, even though he is very scared, he still replies in a polite manner by continuously addressing him as “sir”. This politeness in his dialogue makes the reader sympathise with him, making him more memorable. Dickens also uses the setting to great effect. At the start of the book, he places Pip in a graveyard which is later described as a ‘bleak place’ that is ‘riddled with overgrown nettles’.
This is a ‘marsh country’ and like a ‘savage lair’. This setting draws contrast with the good nature of Pip, who is described as a “small bundle of shivers”, this causes the reader to feel sympathy for him as he is so small and innocent compared to the environment he is living in. Furthermore, in the final paragraph of the first page of the book, Dickens uses no less than nine ‘and’s to lengthen the sentence. This causes the reader to pay more attention to the setting and allows them draw contrasts between Pip’s attitude and his surroundings.
The associated words spoken about earlier, and the details given about the setting, give the image of the place being cold, dark and dangerous. The image created, is one where a small boy should not be. In fact, the word ‘Pip’ is used to describe the small seed inside an apple, something that can grow as time goes by, hinting at what Pip’s future may be. When the setting and Pip’s smallness are both mixed together, we feel even greater sympathy for Pip as he is so isolated in the setting, making him memorable. As soon as Magwitch appears Pip is frightened of him. When Magwitch threatens him he starts to plead ‘in terror’.
His dialogue is pleading and he ‘prays’. This makes it seem as though in times of desperation, Pip’s faith is still strong. This is representative of the time as most people were God-fearing and regularly attended church. Sympathy soon develops for Pip because he has this intimidating man bearing down upon him, threatening to eat him. The sympathy soon turns into empathy because Pip describes himself as ‘undersized’ and ‘not strong’. These two adjectives make Pip appear even more at risk than before in the eyes of the readers. Although Pip may be scared he is still able to negotiate with Magwitch.
This may show great maturity on Pip’s behalf because he is not so frightened that he is unable to think straight. This developed attitude is displayed when Magwitch is threatening Pip. Pip specifically says ‘If you would let me sit straight… perhaps I could attend more’. This shows great braveness because Pip has negotiated with Magwitch instead of showing fear, this piece of bravery also help to endear Pip to the readers. Another example of how Dickens uses the setting’s advantage is when Pip first meets Miss Havisham, the cold-hearted, old, rich woman who has a fancy for manipulation.
Pip describes the setting as “no glimpse of daylight could be seen… ” Light is often used as symbolic of hope. So it could mean that all hope for Miss Havisham has been cut off. This intrigues the readers and makes them ask further questions such as “Why has hope been cut off? “and “Why is there no daylight? ” in order to fulfil their own curiosity. Through making the readers ask questions of Miss Havisham, Dickens is making her more memorable and striking. Other associations are also made with death and gloominess, with words such as ‘ghastly’, ‘skeletons’ and ‘sunken’.
This gives us a greater feeling that trouble may be looming for our beloved Pip, thus making the readers feel pathos for him. Dickens uses dialogue a lot in this book, to further get across the characteristics of people and he also uses reactions to the dialogue in order to make them memorable and striking to the reader. One of the best examples of this is when we learn of Estella’s distaste for our ‘common’ Pip. She makes it pretty clear what she thinks of him. He is called a “common labouring boy” and is also described as having ‘coarse hands’ and ‘thick boots’.
These hurtful pieces of dialogue targeted at Pip help make both of them memorable. Why? Well, again the readers are sympathetic towards Pip as they are looking from his point of view and do not like to see him ‘running away crying’. In addition, when they realise what Estella characteristics are like in comparison to Pip’s, they begin to appreciate his qualities even more as they are reminded about what Pip could have been like had he been brought up differently, this further endears him to the readers.
Also, they feel contempt towards Estella for saying such things which also make her striking in the readers’ minds. Furthermore, the battle between evil rich person and good poor person starts up again here between Estella and Pip. This again, intrigues the reader further as they look to find out what Pip’s comeback will be. This further helps to make the pair of them striking. The contrast in characteristics is not the only thing however, that intrigues the readers. They are also amazed and interested to see how fond Pip is of Estella, even though she continues to abuse him whenever he comes over.
Similar to when a dog follows its owner even after being continuously beaten. Miss Havisham taught Estella to be rude and condescending to Pip, and thus she would ‘break his heart’ just like hers had been a long time ago. She often talked down to him like he was just a silly common boy. One day when Pip was leaving, Estella gave him permission to kiss her. After doing so, Pip thought he would feel very good but that was not the case. Pip, in his head, responded, “I kissed her cheek as she turned it to me.
I think I would have gone through a great deal to kiss her cheek. But, I felt that the kiss was given to the course common boy as a piece of money might have been, and that is worth nothing” This shows us how easily Pip had been led by the manipulating, ‘mini me’ version of Miss Havisham. This manipulation makes us feel further contempt towards to the rich mother and daughter and even more sympathy towards Pip. This further helps enhance how memorable they are to the readers. Dickens also uses direct description to make the characters unforgettable.
An example is the description he gave of Miss Havisham, when Pip first met her. When Pip first enters the ‘pretty large room’, he is justifiably confused (like the readers) at Ms Havisham’s appearance. She is described as wearing a brides dress yet she was extremely old and ‘withered like the dress’ and is sitting on a table with ‘her head leaning on her hand’ (This points towards the fact that she seems to be rather sad or glum) which makes the readers want to ask questions about her such as “Why is she wearing a bridal dress at that age? and “Why is she sad? “.
This curiosity created by Dickens makes her more interesting, striking and memorable because she is, as Pip calls her, “the strangest lady I have ever seen”. Dickens makes it again perfectly clear that Miss Havisham is ‘strange’ and is very isolated from the rest of the world. It seems ‘natural light would have struck her to dust’ as she continues to exist in her own little world, the house that had ‘lost its lustre’. Her actions and dialogues also make the readers question her mental state.
For a start, Pip notices that both the clock and Miss Havisham’s watch have been stopped at a particular time (Twenty to nine), as well as the fact that she placed a ‘jewel exactly on the spot from which she had taken it up’. This information indicates that Miss Havisham seems to be stuck in time. This, when coupled with her isolation, makes her more fascinating to the readers because they are curious about her and want to find out more. In addition, Dickens answered some of the questions about her but creates even more by the dialogue she exchanges with the innocent Pip.
When she talks about her ‘broken’ heart, the readers are given a part answer as to why she is so upset, but they now ask who broke her heart. Also, she concedes that she ‘sometimes has sick fancies’ and her melodramatic actions after she speaks of her broken heart have a ‘kind of boast in them’ which is even more fascinating. This confirms that she really is not right in the head, which again makes her striking. She is also described as being very commanding, “Look at me”, “… I want to see some play”, “… play cards with this boy” and “Call Estella”.
These direct commands increases the readers’ distaste for her, which makes her more memorable as she is ideal for the stereotypical role of the ‘wicked old rich woman’ which makes her more memorable. Great Expectations also presents us with the character Wemmick, to show us how money and class has changed Pip. Dickens again makes us pay attention to the setting in order to draw certain contrasts and parallels between Wemmick and Miss Havisham to essentially make the pair both memorable and to get across Dickens’ view on the different classes. It seems that Wemmick as well, prefers to be isolated.
His ‘wooden little cottage’ is described as being similar to a medieval castle. There were many ‘fortifications’ as well as a ‘real flagstaff’ and a ‘stinger’. The wooden cottage is used by Wemmick to ‘cut off the communication’. This interests the readers and makes them curious. They ask questions such as “Why is he choosing to be isolated like Miss Havisham? ” and “Is he a bit loony? “, however, despite his chosen isolation, Wemmick’s characteristics are portrayed by Mr Dickens as being good natured. He takes great care of his ‘well aged parent’ and lets off the old ‘stinger’ to please him.
This shows an innocence about him, similar to what the readers saw in Pip when he was young. He is also self-reliant, “I am my engineer, and my own carpenter, and my own plumber… ” which is in contrast to Miss Havisham, who seemingly does nothing in her isolated place and she is just sat there like a vegetable feeling sorry for herself. This innocence endears him to the readers which also draws a contrast to how they feel about Miss Havisham. She is also isolated like Wemmick yet her attitude seems to be the complete opposite. She prefers to ‘humiliate’ and ‘manipulate’ others. This in essence, makes the pair of them more memorable.
We are also shown how Pip has changed after having acquired wealth and gaining a higher position in the class system. When Pip describes the cottage, he describes the plank as a ‘bridge’ and the ‘four feet wide and two deep’ ditch as a chasm. A chasm is, of course, a lot bigger than the measurements mentioned, which means that Pip is being sarcastic about Wemmick’s ‘castle’. This startlingly piece of description from Pip, makes the readers rethink their judgement of Pip. This change in light of Pip’s character is further aided by Wemmick’s kindness which is also in contrast with Pip’s new attitude.
This makes him more memorable. This point can be further backed up by the contrast in settings between Wemmick and Pip. Pip’s visit to Walworth and Wemmick’s double life points out how Pip has divided his own life between the hardness of London and Joe’s warm cottage. Wemmick, when in his home at Walworth, acts like a tender and loving man who enjoys the company of the ‘Aged’. However, once Wemmick returns to the busy and moneymaking office of Mr. Jaggers, he turns into the same boring and callous man whom Pip had met upon his first arrival in London.
A similar relationship exists between Pip’s ‘hardened life’ in London and his previous comfortable residence at the forge (which now doesn’t seem to be so ‘bleak’ and ‘dark’ as was deemed as before). Unfortunately, and unlike Wemmick, Pip has chosen to favour the London facade rather than the honest rural life with its more real and less isolated delights. This decision to choose the ‘high life’ on Pip’s part, forces the readers to rethink their judgement of him even more. They also find out how much he has changed since he became a ‘gentlemen’.
This change in attitude makes him more prominent in the readers’ minds. This change is even more enhanced when compared to Wemmick’s way of living. This also endears Wemmick to the readers as he is now the new ‘good guy’ in the novel Dickens repeats certain words exactly or words of the same effect to help create a gloomy atmosphere, which usually draws contrast or parallels the characters’ attitudes. For example, through the book words such as ‘ghastly’, ‘sunken’, ‘dead’ and ‘buried’ are used for atmospheric reasons thus relating to the character and making them more memorable.
Alliteration is also used such as ‘low leaden line’ and ‘small bundle of shivers’ to really ram home the setting again for added impact and make contrast or parallels with characters to make them more memorable. Pip’s story is not about living happily ever after with Estella. Dickens never tells us what happens, if anything, between them in the end. He leaves it only that they remain ‘friends’. There is a purpose for this. Estella is present in Pip’s thoughts more than actual interaction between the characters. Due to this lack of interaction, the readers do not discover if Estella really had changed or if she loved Pip.
Therefore, even at the end, Dickens is making the readers ask questions of Estella and Pip, thus enhancing them one last time. In ‘Great Expectations’ Charles Dickens shows his marvellous talent by creating archetypal characters that readers can genuinely sympathise with and relate to. With an intricate mix of dialogues, direct description, setting and atmosphere, Dickens fashions characters that are striking and memorable. He utilises the characters to a great effect in order to shed light on the Victorian class system, and his views on it.