Essay on Great Expectations (by Charles Dickens)
Explore Dickens effective “language” to create “setting” and“character” in the opening chapter of Great Expectations.
Dickens opens the theme of death early in the chapter. In the secondparagraph he mentions the tombstones of Pips parents,
“I gave Pirrip as my fathers family name on the authority of histombstone”.
This informs us that Pip experienced death at an early age. He goes onto describe the churchyard and the land around continuing the themesof death, and general negativity.
Pip says that,
“My most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seemsto have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening.”
The word vivid is used to create the impression that this afternoonsticks out clearly in his memory and that its in contrast to otherthings that have been forgotten and are less clear in his mind. Hisuse of the phrase “impression of” and the word memorable also showthat it has been impressed into in his memory – clearly somethingimportant happened. The afternoon is described as raw this suggestscold, wind, winter, bleak sore and no sun.
The place Pip is in is a churchyard and Dickens goes on to describe itas bleak and overgrown with nettles. He uses negative language tocreate a setting of bleak and colourless place as nettles are seen asnegative objects. The theme of death arises again at the end of thatsentence as it finishes with the words “dead and buried”.
Dickens then continues to describe the marshland outside thechurchyard as dark and flat implying that it is featureless – nolandmarks, bringing back the themes of colourless and negativity. Healso utilises the classic sentence formation …
…me down, and going back to hookhimself up again.”
This is effective as Pip mixes up the images of the pirate and theconvict in his head, and Dickens also uses personification:
“as I saw the cattle lifting their heads to gaze after him, I wonderedif they thought so too.”
Dickens effectively uses the language to show us the idea of theconvict and the pirate coming to life mixed up together terrifies Pipuntil:
“But, now I was frightened again and ran home without stopping.”
This chapter effectively sets up the events to come by introducing asense of the colourless and bleak world that Pip inhabits and which isbuilt on in the rest of the book. It also introduces us to thewriter’s skill with language when he describes the place andcharacters, showing his skill at detailed descriptions anddemonstrating how effectively he uses the language.