Great Expectations is Dickens’ most completely unified work of art, formally concentrated and related in its parts at every level of reading. Every detail of the plot, moreover, expresses some further aspect of the theme, and one that is necessary for its full apprehension of the reader. In the beginning of Dickens’s Great Expectations we as readers are greeted with an unreliable narrator: a man remembering his life as a small boy, frightened of both strangers and his closest family. How are we to perceive the story he relates. Here writing has an ideographic quality; it is pictorial rather than or in addition to phonetic writing.
In the child’s eye, its calligraphic qualities release secrets which the printed world of books conceals. The letters of his parents’ names serve as visual cues and clues. Having told us that he lived in the pre-history of photography, Pip then proceeds to give us snapshots of his experience, constructing them out of the lines and patterns of the alphabetic characters that form their names. In Great Expectations, Pip describes his surroundings with the wide-eyed fascination of any young boy: It was a rimy morning, and very damp.
I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders’ webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village–a direction which they never accepted, for they never came there–was invisible to me until I was quite close under it.
Then, as I looked up at it, while it dripped it seemed to my oppressed conscience like a phantom devoting me to the Hulks. (17) Pip’s perceptions of his village are governed by youth and fear. The fear lying in the runaway prisoners threatening to eat him and from his sister, Mrs. Joe, who raised him “by hand. ” This technique of deep description can be taken from Wordsworth and Keats, but Dickens does so in prose. Therefore, the heavy description serves a double purpose–not only to provide an image for the reader but to show Pip’s youthful depiction of the world around him.
How are these two purposes balanced? How does Dickens’s way of portraying nature compare and contrast to Wordsworth’s and Keats’s? How is Pip’s youthfulness subdued by the dull environment around him? 3 Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations makes much use of metaphor, intertwined with folk and religious parables, in order to create much of the imagery in the text. One particular passage is: I struggled through the alphabet as if it had been a bramble-bush; getting considerably worried and scratched by every letter.
After that, I fell among those thieves, the nine figures, who seemed every evening to do something new to disguise themselves and baffle recognition. But at last I began, in a purblind groping way, to read, write, and cipher, on the very smallest scale. (Dickens 44) Here, Pip’s road to education is seen as a sort of archetypal journey. The allusion to brambles could not only be referring to several folk and fairy tales (the thorns covering the castle in Sleeping Beauty, the brambles that scratch out the Prince’s eyes in Rapunzel, the briar patch), but also to Christ’s crown of thorns.
This is followed by the idea of Pip falling among thieves, which is noted as a reference to Christ’s tale of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). Themes of disguise, stumbling, and youthful mistakes are evoked. How much of Dickens fairy tale imagery is intentional? How does this relate to the idea of Great Expectations as a Bildungsroman, with Pip on a road towards self-discover and moral redemption? Do the references transform this story beyond a merely personal level and into some greater significance? lexi adams) I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating and the man’s. The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger in every direction of somebody’s coming to take the pie away. (16) Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is packed with similes at every turn.
Described by the narrator, Pip, elements of comparison are ostensibly drawn from Pip’s life. His comparison of the convict to the dog is very much a young boy’s observation. His description also, on the other hand, suggests to the reader perceptions of which Pip himself is not aware. Thus Dickens is constantly present within the text as a source of authorial perspective. This is true throughout his use of similes as well as in his ways of naming characters such as Pip, Joe, Mrs. Joe, Also Georgiana, and Estella.
Pip’s story—the story of the novel—traces his development through the events of his early life; his narration, however, written years after the end of the story, is a product of his character as it exists after the events of the story. Pip’s narration thus reveals the psychological endpoint of his development in the novel. Pip’s behavior as a character often reveals only part of the story—he treats Joe coldly, for instance—while his manner as a narrator completes that story: his guilt for his poor behavior toward his loved ones endures, even as he writes about his early life years later.
Of course, Dickens manipulates Pip’s narration in order to evoke its subjects effectively: Pip’s childhood is narrated in a much more childlike voice than his adult years, even though the narrator Pip presumably writes both parts of the story at a single later date. Dickens also uses Pip’s narration to reinforce particular aspects of his character that emerge in the course of the novel: we know from his actions that Pip is somewhat self-centered but sympathetic at heart to others; Pip’s later narration of his relationships with others tends to reflect those qualities.
When Magwitch reveals that he is Pip’s benefactor, for instance, Pip is disgusted by the convict and describes him solely in negative terms; as his affection for Magwitch grows, the descriptive terms he chooses to apply to the convict become much more positive. Of course, Dickens exploits the conventions of first-person narrative with skill: we can believe that the story is all Pip’s but the voice is not unlike Dickens’ own in third-person novels.
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