For the purpose of this coursework title I am studying “Great Expectations” and “A Confession Found in a Prison in the Time of Charles the Second” both written by Charles Dickens.
In ‘G.E.’ Pips character is revealed in stages and in explicit detail whilst taking a long while to begin the tale. We are immediately told his forename, surname and about his childhood – we learn of his mother and father’s death and are shown his imaginative qualities early on when he builds up a picture of his parents derived from the writing on their tombstones. When Pip returns home we see that he can be a mischievous child partly because he wasn’t supposed to be in the graveyard and also because of his relationship with Joe. Pip has faults and is therefore a character with which we can sympathise. Pip appears to be a well-mannered boy with little experience of the world; he has a vivid imagination and shows the early signs of being very conscientious of his own actions.
The ‘Confession’ is very different in style to ‘G.E.’ as we are given little detail of the mans life. All we learn is that he was a Lieutenant in the army and are never told his name throughout the story. I believe this makes it more difficult to relate to the narrator even though it is written in the first person narrative. However in the second paragraph we feel a certain amount of sorrow for the man when we learn he is to die that night and he reveals his feelings of jealousy towards his brother.
“He was open-hearted and generous, handsomer than I. More accomplished and generally beloved.”
He feels that he has lived his life in his brother’s shadow; all his friends are merely there to become acquainted with his brother. Within the first page we learn of the envy and resentment shown towards his brother and soon after that shown towards his Sister in law and her child, this helps us to realise why he would be the victim of a guilty conscience.
When reading each of these stories we immediately notice that both are written in the first person narrative, this effectively helps us to empathise with the narrator and share in the same feelings and emotions that he feels. In ‘G.E.’ we are thrown into Pips world, a world of fright, mischief and naivety; we are shown at first hand the reasons for his guilt-ridden soul and similarly we feel the weight of his conscience and the burden he must carry.
In “The Confession” the story begins on the night before he is to die, written in the first person, soon he begins to look back at what he has done, this is written in the past. This means that before we know what he has done, we know the outcome. Dickens gradually builds up the Narrator’s wish to kill his adopted son quite convincingly by first showing the reasons behind it. There was little love lost between the two brothers and even less between him and his brother’s wife. After she died he thought he haunted him, and whenever he looked at the child he saw her face. Soon after he felt uneasy and began to think how useful the child’s trust fund would be. After the tension builds within the page “then drawing nearer and nearer” the narrator begins not to worry about murdering the child just how to do it. This is very convincing in the way his feelings aren’t obvious from the start, but we begin to notice them appearing over a period of time.
The natural world plays a big part in the feelings shown in that particular scene. Pathetic fallacy is shown quite often in “G.E.”, When Pip leaves to meet the convict he is terrified and lonely his feelings and emotions are reflected in the weather and the occurrences around him. “Coarser of spiders webs” everything looks evil and frightening to him on that morning even the dew on the trees, later he sees a cow which to him looks like a Judge of a priest “…Clerical air…” instantly Pip blurts out how he didn’t want to do it. He feels a need to confess and rid himself of this burden and relieve his oppressed conscience.
“The Confession” also uses the natural world to heighten emotions, particularly in the description of the boy’s murder.
“The sun burst forth from behind a cloud: it shone in the bright sky, the glistening earth, the clear water, the sparkling drops of rain upon the leaves. There were eyes in everything”
The use of pathetic fallacy shows us that he is guilty for what he is about to do, everything stops to see him commit the atrocity, and he feels the whole universe is watching him, even God. The child’s mother looks at him through the boys’ eyes, the tension heightens as the boy turns to run and is cut down as he moves. Strangely this is followed by a moment of passion from the narrator, “with his cheek resting upon his little hand”. For an instant after the murder the man feels guilt for what he has done and looks upon the child with a certain amount of love.
Almost from the start of “G.E.” we feel a bond between the narrator and us as we are given a considerable amount of detail about him. Dickens writes in the first person narrative and picks his words carefully, “And the small bundle of shivers” which creates a feeling of innocence. We experience a sense of pity when Pip is alone on the cold dark marshes and notice how the setting is picked with care for the meeting with the convict. Pip is always polite however we are not sure if this is natural or caused by terror. To add to this Pip appears to be gullible when he is told about the man who will eat his liver, a characteristic we can relate to.
The final paragraph in “The Confession” changes our feelings towards the narrator, we witness his innermost feelings and emotions and hear of how he has eventually confessed to himself the awful deed and has to live night and day with his conscience. Despite this there is still a love hate relationship between the narrator and the reader, we feel sorry for him, but dislike him for his actions. Dickens uses “That I” repeatedly to great effect in the final paragraph, this lets us know that he has been going over the same feelings of guilt in his mind and sorrow mainly for himself and for being caught, rather than for committing the murder.
I believe that Dickens successfully creates the feeling of a guilty conscience in both stories and allows the reader to share in the experience intimately. The two consciences are very different, Pips innocence allows him to feel incredibly guilty for stealing a pork pie, and the man in “The Confession” shows little emotion and his guilt is for being caught. The message of a guilty conscience is conveyed well to us, but it would have meant more to those in Dickens time. We no longer have prison ships, or gibbets and never hear the canon sounded for an escaped convict, we can only begin to imagine all of these things, but Dickens’ words help to bring this things to life even though we have never seen them before. The quality of Dickens writing leaves us with the feeling that we have shared the experience of a guilty conscience disregarding the era that we are from.