Assess the significance of chapter one of the novel in terms of a) Making the reader aware that this is an adventure story b) Preparing us for the way in which Pips relationship with Magwitch will be important for the formation of his character Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations” tells the story of a young orphan boy called Pip, who is desperate to become a gentleman. He is then able to live his dream when an anonymous benefactor pays for him to live in London. In the first chapter Charles Dickens makes the reader aware that this is an adventure story by powerfully and effectively describing the setting, which makes it easy to imagine.
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He uses the phases “raw afternoon” and “bleak place overgrown with nettles”, along with his description of the dark marshes, to show that this is an unpleasant place. Dickens then writes about a “savage lair” that is the sea, which gives the reader a clue that a monster is about to pounce, as Abel Magwitch then does. The spooky wilderness around the churchyard may have been used to reflect Magwitchs savage appearance. The first chapter leaves the reader wanting to know more about the characters pasts, presents and futures. Where is Magwitch from?
What has he been convicted for? What will he do now? And will he be recaptured? Magwitch has a very threatening attitude towards Pip, but at one point he changes completely. He asks Pip where his mother is, and Pip points towards the grave. Magwitchs suddenly starts to run believing that Pips mother is standing in the churchyard. This shows that although he is able to stand up to a young child he is not strong or brave enough to defend himself against an adult. Pip is afraid of Magwitch throughout the first chapter, but there is one point where he too changes.
As Magwitch is walking away onto the marshes Pip compares him to a “man whose legs were numbed and stiff” and then to a pirate who was hung from the gibbet on the marshes. This shows that Pip feels some sympathy for Magwitch. Pips life is briefly explained making the reader want to know more about his family and home, and whether or not he will go back to Magwitch. Charles Dickens builds up tension and suspense in chapter one by using phrases such as “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat! ” and “Who d’ye live with – supposin’ you’re kindly let to live”.
Magwitch then goes on to talk about Pips fat cheeks and says that he is hungry enough to eat them, prompting Pip to “earnestly” express his “hope that he wouldn’t”. When Magwitch finds that Pip lives with a blacksmith he asks Pip to bring him “wittles” (food) and a file. He places Pip on top of a gravestone and, as Pip narrates, “After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger”. He then picks Pip up and rolls him over. This is the second time he does this, the first being when he first arrived in the churchyard and checked Pips pockets for food.
Next Magwitch tells Pip about a young man he has hiding with him who “has a secret way pecooliar to himself, of getting at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver”. This makes the reader want to know more about the young man and whether or not he is going to hurt Pip. The chapter ends with Magwitch walking out into the “wilderness beyond the churchyard” and Pip running home with out stopping, so that the following chapters need to be read to see whether Pip goes back to Magwitch and what happens if he doesn’t.
In chapter one Pip and Magwitchs relationship is based on Magwitchs helplessness and Pips fear of and sympathy for him. Magwitch is obviously very afraid of being recaptured and thinks nothing of terrorising a small boy to make sure he stays free and alive. Pip is understandably scared of Magwitch, who makes many threats towards him, but he also feels sorry for Magwitch, and Dickens doesn’t make it clear whether it is his fear or sympathy which makes him go back and help. In the next two meetings Pip and Magwitchs relationship strengthens greatly.
Magwitch does not turn Pip upside down to get food, but leaves him to take it out of his pockets, unlike in their first meeting. While Magwitch is eating Pip says “I think you have got the ague” and “You’ve been lying out on the meshes, and they’re dreadful aguish. Rheumatic, too” which shows that he is concerned about his health. When Pip tells Magwitch that he has told no one about him, Magwitch believes him. Then before Pip leaves him he says “I was glad you enjoyed it” and Magwitch replies with “Thankee, my boy. I do”. We can take this as a genuine exchange which shows they care about each other.
When Magwitch is caught by the soldiers Pip thinks of him as “my convict”, and Magwitch gives Pip a look which he couldn’t understand. When they arrive at the soldiers hut Magwitch begins to repay Pips kindness by telling the sergeant that he stole the food and file from the blacksmiths. It is shown again that Pip cares about Magwitch as when Pip watches him get into the prison boat the text says that Pip is upset that no one acknowledges or cares about his presence. When Magwitch appears outside Pips rooms in London Pip has no idea who he is.
Pip invites him into his rooms, but in an inhospitable manner as he “resented the sort of bright and gratified recognition that still shone in his face”. Pip is confused when Magwitch walks around with “an air of wondering pleasure, as if he had some part in the things he admired”, not yet knowing that it is he who is his secret benefactor. When Magwitch realises that Pip doesn’t remember him he feels very disappointed and tells Pip that he will explain himself as soon as he is warm. He asks Pip a question and at Pips reply says “You’re a game one” “I’m glad you’ve grow’d up, a game one! But don’t catch hold of me.
You’d be sorry arterwards to have done it”. The text then tells of how Pip immediately recognises Magwitch “Even yet, I could not recall a single feature, but I knew him! “. Magwitch holds out his hands and takes Pips and kisses then while saying to Pip “You acted noble, my boy” “And I have never forgot it”. Pip pushes him away and Magwitch is then upset that they are not as close as he had expected them to be, which is shown by his use of the words “my boy”, as though he feels like a father towards Pip. It is when Magwitch starts to ask Pip of how he came to acquire his money that he becomes scared.
It is only after Magwitch correctly tells Pip the amount of money he received and the name of the lawyer in charge of Pips financial affairs, that Pips “position came flashing” upon him. Instead of being pleased Pip is disappointed. Magwitch finally says “Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman of you! It’s me wot has done it! “. Pip shows how much their relationship, and he as a person, has changed in one hate filled sentence “The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast”.
Pips final meeting with Magwitch is in the prison hospital. Their relationship is the strongest it has ever been throughout the story. Pip says that his “repugnance to him [Magwitch] had all melted away” and that he now thought of him as an affectionate, grateful and generous benefactor, a much better man than Joe, the blacksmith. The text mentions how Magwitchs breathing and movement became painful and difficult and how Pip tried to help him, similar to how he helped him stay alive in their first meetings.
As Magwitch nears death he feels comfort in the fact the Pip will still be able to live his rich life, as Pip hasn’t the heart to tell him that all his money will be given to the Crown. This shows that they are still both trying to care for each other. Pip then says “I will be as true to you, as you have been to me” and tells Magwitch how he is never late to visit him, as he stands and waits outside the gates. Magwitch thanks him for never deserting him and Pip sits in an embarrassed silence as he remembers how he once meant to leave him.
Pip asks Magwitch if he is in pain and Magwitch replies “I don’t complain of none, dear boy”. These are Magwitchs last words. Pip takes his hand and tells him of his love for his “very beautiful” daughter, Estella, and Magwitch acknowledges this by kissing Pips hand. Magwitch then quietly passes away and Pip recites Magwitchs chosen words “O Lord, be merciful to him, a sinner”. This shows that Pip understands Magwitchs crimes, but as the bond is so strong between them, like a father and son, that he still feels for him.