I will be discussing the first person narrative technique Dickens uses in his novel ‘Great Expectations’, a ground-breaking book of its time. In the novel Dickens writes in the first person narrative of a character called Pip who talks about his voyage through life .We see him grow, change and adjust to the world around him during which the reader is a fly on the wall. Is this successful?
This literary tradition of first person narrative is used very cleverly; one of the advantages is that Dickens can play with how Pip tells the story to portray a character the reader likes or dislikes .I feel Dickens uses Pip to demonstrate the things he believes are wrong in the world at the time .For example the way he describes the abject poverty of London as an awful shock to Pip as well as the way Pip changes with the money he receives. These are obviously experiences Dickens had felt.
An additional advantage to the style of Dickens writing is that we understand what Dickens is trying to express. Pip is a brilliant character for conveying a point because we believe what he tells us which means Pip has gained the readers trust and respect which proves a high-quality character.
Another illustration of Dickens successful writing ,is the clever way he creates Pip to be a very realistic character who is extremely three dimensional .However it is not only the main character that is brilliantly written, Mrs Haversham for instance plays an evil old lady that has been treated badly through out her life and aspires to revenge the whole of the male sex using her adopted child “Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!” .Pip changes through the book adapting to his surroundings Dickens does this by making us realise things Pip doesn’t, about himself. This is very flattering for the readers as they believe they understand the novel extremely well and are almost part of the novel them self.
A supplementary advantage to this narrative technique, which is very effective, is that you learn the novels twists and turns the very same moment Pip does. This makes the reader feel involved and important to the novel.
It is apparent that a key motive of Dickens in the novel was to portray how the different classes treated each other in the nineteenth century. We learn of the contrast in the way Pip is treated depending on his affluence through out the book: a vital character for showing this is Publchook who treats Pip with very little admiration .However as soon as Pip becomes wealthy he entirely changes his attitude towards Pip. Dickens clearly wrote this into the novel to show class distinction.
I believe Dickens may have written this into the novel as it perhaps was something he had encountered in life as his career bloomed. He came from a poor family and by the time he was writing this novel he would have made a considerable amount of money. He would have become of higher class and consequently would have encountered characters resembling Publchook. This is why I feel we can learn a great deal about Dickens himself and the social attitude to wealth at that time through this novel.
A component of Dickens success of the narrative technique in this novel is his use of symbolism. An illustration of this is the way Jaggers always washed his hands after work to wash himself of what he had been doing. This suggests that he may have felt guilty of what he had done and wanted to wash it away reminiscent of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth who constantly washes her hands as an attempt to eradicate her guilty conscience.
One of the strong disadvantages to the way Dickens has chosen to write the novel is that for a large majority of the novel the main character, Pip is a disagreeable, selfish character. Dickens did this at a great risk as Pip is the only character that explains the book; if the reader disliked Pip they may lose interest in the book .However some people may argue that this in fact simply showed how skilled Dickens was to create a character that we loved and loathed depending on the stage of his life for instance at the end of the book when he had learnt from his mistakes “.suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”.
An unfortunate flaw in the novel is the fact that Pip wrote the book when he was older looking back on his life; nevertheless he still had all the detail as if it had happened the day before. Also he writes the novel as if he was writing it the moment it happened. When he has a lot of money he writes very snobbishly although when he was writing it he would have been a lot older and would not have had those feelings anymore.
As I explained previously Pip is a brilliant character for conveying Dickens opinions however I feel this comes at a sacrifice as it means the reader only ever sees Pip’s world in the book from his ,biased eyes. We learn he is a sweet, innocent little boy who only wants to do well in the world but who do we learn this from? Pip who makes the reader consider that the only true things you learn about characters are when they slip their guard or when they are doing something you would consider rude .For instance when Pip says to Biddy that he wished he loved her but could not. You learn, from conversations like this ,Pips real character.
Having studied the novel thoroughly I feel that this novel shows an excellent use of the first person narrative technique. The advantages out way the disadvantages by a tremendous amount. All the characters Dickens has created are original furthermore realistic which is very important for a novel. I believe the novel was a great success because of Dickens use of narrative technique. Also because it has a strong underling point that everyone should consider; class distinction is a recurring point in the book and although it is a somewhat light-hearted book it is something that Dickens clearly feels very strongly about. If there is one thing I have learnt from this book it is not to look down on people because of their money or indeed up to them. This is the one point I feel Dickens wanted people to understand from the book which is why I feel it was a success. It was brilliantly written; from beginning to end .Dickens use of description was superlative to many writers of the day .The way Pip explains his voyage through life is exhilarating, entertaining and effulgent.