Charles Dickens

The book, Great Expectations, was written by Charles Dickens in 1860. The book is set in Victorian Britain, a time when there was a great divide between rich and poor. Dickens was obviously concerned about the divide, because the book illustrates the incorrect assumptions that were regularly made about people’s wealth. The story is of a young man called Pip, who has been brought up by, his sister and her husband, a poor blacksmith. However, to Pip’s dismay he is offered ‘great expectations’ and his life is turned upside down.

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The first chapter begins rather depressingly, with Pip, alone in a dark graveyard on the marshes, tracing the lettering on his parents’ gravestone with his finger. The language Dickens uses here, is particularly effective, “dark, flat wilderness; overgrown with nettles”. It makes the reader feel sorry for Pip immediately, because although the reader does not know much about Pip at this point, he is alone in a bleak nettled graveyard and his parents are both dead. The convict then sneaks up on an already frightened, Pip and startles him.

The convict orders Pip to steal him a file and some food, otherwise he says will remove his heart and liver. Pip is unsure of how to react to the convict, as he has never seen anyone like him. He understands that the convict is rather unrespectable, ” a man with no hat and with broken shoes”, however Pip still remains polite, even though his stuttering makes it apparent, to the reader, that he is scared, “O! Don’t cut my throat, sir. Pray don’t do it, sir”. Throughout the whole encounter Pip, although he finds it difficult, keeps control of his emotions.

The way the scene is set adds extra depression and a certain degree of fear to the extract. Dickens is quite particular with his description and detail; he paints a very distinct picture with very little room for imagination. The setting portrays Pip as a very small and vulnerable, Dickens does this effectively by using words such as, overgrown. Whereas the convict, on the other hand, appears to be big and intimidating. This allows the reader to empathise with Pip and understand how frightening the encounter must have been for him.

The description in this extract tells the reader a lot about these two characters. Pip reacts very politely, even in difficult situations. He is also portrayed as being very respectful, even to people who appear the least respectable. This is shown by Pips understanding that the man he has encountered is scruffy and ill-mannered, yet he remains polite and wants to help him. Overall you can tell that Pip copes remarkably well, even in the most disheartening of situations. The extract tells the reader a fair amount the convict and how he was perceived by Pip.

In Dickens’ time the convict would have been classed as very poor and unrespectable, by Victorian society. Pip notices that the man is hatless and wearing tattered shoes, almost immediately. This suggests that, class by wealth and appearance, was very common and even young children were brought up to this way of thinking. The reader knows that the man Pip has encountered is an escaped convict, because the connection is made to the “iron on his leg”. However a young ve Pip fails to make this connection

The language Dickens uses creates a particular atmosphere. The long sentences of description and detail build up a detailed picture, “the dark, flat wilderness, beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds” these adjectives intensify a very depressing and gloomy surrounding. It is particularly effective because Dickens writes it from Pip’s eyes. In the next extract Pip, and the reader, meet Miss Havisham. This again is a very strange and surreal encounter. Pip has been told, that Miss Havisham has requested him to go to her house, and entertain her.

Pip’s sister is very keen for Pip to go, because of Miss Havisham’s wealth, and so, rather reluctantly, he goes along. This extract is slightly different to the first, because this time Pip has time to prepare himself for the encounter, however, again, he doesn’t know what to expect. He enters Miss Havisham’s dressing room, which is a particularly strange scene. Pip is very observant to all these new and strange surroundings, which are daunting and quite frightening, to a small, unsure Pip. Yet again he is startled; however, he conceals his emotions and is polite and obedient, like before.

Also, like previously, he wishes to help. This time, Pip understands the position Miss Havisham is in, unlike his confusion and sheer naivety considering the convict’s situation. The scene is set in the dressing room of a large, grand and once glamorous house. However the room itself is described to be in a state of neglect and decay. Miss Havisham’s belongings are strewn across the floor, the curtains appear to have been drawn for years and there is no natural light. The setting is again, unpleasant and depressing, yet Pip cannot help but notice, how wealthy this woman must be.

He is very impressionable at this stage and is obviously impressed by wealth. All of the clocks in this house have stopped, “her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine”. An impression is given to the reader, that the clocks are symbolic to Miss Havisham’s life, also stopping at twenty minutes to nine, some years previously. Pip appears to notice this significance also, because Dickens makes Pip notice and, spend a lot of time thinking about all of the clocks. There are many signs to suggest that Miss Havisham was getting ready to go to her own wedding, just before the significant clocks stopped.

She is wearing expensive and luxurious materials of silk and lace. She is also wearing a veil and the clothes she is wearing were obviously once white before they faded yellow with age. She has bridal flowers in her hair and she is wearing delicate and expensive jewellery. She is not completely dressed; her shoe is missing; her veil is only half arranged and she is yet to put on her gloves. The reader assumes that she was getting ready to get married when her fianc delivered a “crushing blow” and jilted her.