Chronological Order & Its Uses in Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn

“A chronological sequence is only one way (though a powerful one) of telling a story. ” Discuss Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn in light of this statement, commenting on how the “story” is told and what effects are produced by the way the narrative is conducted. Novels often achieve several ends by chronologically orienting their plots, and Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, and Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, are excellent examples of novels accomplishing a wide variety of goals while differentiating in styles of chronological sequence.

The protagonist and narrator in Great Expectations, Pip, describes his actions while speaking in past tense, both while looking from a thoughtful, mature perspective onto his previous actions and while mentioning the actions and thoughts as if he were of that specific age. On the other hand, Huckleberry Finn (in Huckleberry Finn), in connection to a quality of Huck’s character, describes the actions only as if they had just occurred, providing neither foreshadowing nor thoughts describing previous actions.

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While Pip’s specific tone, as well as his actions at the time, illustrates important themes through his characterization, Huck keeps his tone constant while describing his actions and does not reflect how he felt at a certain time in his tone. The number of plot twists and time-related themes and motifs in Great Expectations and the symbol representing the passing of time in Huckleberry Finn make revealing only certain amounts of information as the plots progress have special importance.

Dickens and Twain use the serial form of the novel to produce anticipation and suspense, keeping the reader attentive and captivated.

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Thus, the chronological sequence of events aids in decoding Pip’s and Huck’s characters, extracting themes and motifs from the novels, and presenting the stories’ plots in a clear, organized manner. The past-tense chronological ordering of Great Expectations allows Pip to comment on his past actions in light of his maturity.

This conscientious leap tells the reader there must be a scene in the story where Pip expresses regret for his previous actions or implies that he will express remorse. For example, after an early visit to Miss Havisham’s house, the mature Pip describes how “some confounding remembrance of the Havisham days would fall upon [him], like a destructive missile, and scatter [his] wits again” and yet in the following chapters the immature Pip repeatedly infatuates himself with the main cause for his anxiety, Estella.

Furthermore, the mature Pip shows remorse and feels that he “[has] deserted Joe” when the convict visits him, and thus believes himself guilty of crimes similar to those of the convict, yet the actions of the immature Pip (how Pip continues to avoid and ignore Joe) in the continuing chapters show him persisting in error rather than correcting it as the mature Pip would have done. Thus, Pip’s “dual-conscience” serves two purposes in chronological storytelling: telling the reader that Pip realized a certain mistake, and how his realization affected his overall character.

Although both novels are in past-tense chronological order, Huck does not describe his previous actions in light of new maturity in Huckkleberry Finn. Instead, as judging actions in terms of usefulness is a central concern in the story, Huck simply describes his actions at the time as well as any new philosophy gained by experience, allowing the reader to realize, in obviousness, that Huck knows of his past actions.

For example, after Huck feels sorry due to his conscience for the duke and king being chased out of town as a result of their fake “plays,” Huck concludes that conscience is useless in saying (in chapter 35), “… a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway. If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does I would pison him. It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, nohow. Although a person’s conscience does often tell him/her of his/her wrong deeds, when one cannot act nor improve on it such as in Huck’s case, conscience serves no purpose but to confuse the person and take him/her away from reality; therefore, after Huck makes this realization he does not make any thoughts showing this type of “conscience. ” Another example of Huck realizing past actions but not showing useless regret is when Jim and Huck become separated in deep fog, and Jim believes Huck when Huck fools Jim into thinking that they had not been separated in fog but that Jim actually had been dreaming.

After Jim expresses his anger at Huck for fooling him, Huck apologizes and says, “… I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way,” thus justifying Huck’s lack of regret (since it is useless according to Huck) and showing how Huck would never do an action such as that again. Both of the above examples establish characterization as well as thought communication as a use of chronological ordering.

Dickens uses the serial form of the novel, which requires an emotional “flow” and “ebb” of suspense at the end of every chapter and all throughout the novel. For example, Dickens produces a “flow” of suspense when Pip (at the end of the chapter) runs into guards coming into his home after he flees the dinner table out of fear for being caught for giving food to the convict: “[he] ran head foremost into a party of soldiers with their muskets; one of whom held out a pair of handcuffs to [him], saying ‘Here you are, look sharp, come on! ” and produces an “ebb” when Pip is not arrested in the next chapter. Hence, the reader is left in confusion as to how Pip will be arrested, or whether he will be arrested or not, in the following chapter. Another obvious example of the “ebb” and “flow” is when Pip reads Wemmick’s order, “DON’T GO HOME”, when he returns to the Temple, and the chapter ends, leaving the reader in confusion and being ignorant that the note was actually a wedding invitation.

Therefore, the chronologically oriented serial form of the novel allows for literary cliffhangers encouraging the reader to read the next chapter. Since Huckleberry Finn is a novel which focuses on the usefulness of each item, and not an item’s artistic impressiveness (and because Twain knows the novel is published as a book and not in serial form), Twain feels less the need of providing gripping (often “cheesy,” in layman’s terms) literary cliffhangers as those found at the end of chapters in Great Expectations.

Twain does, however, leave a certain character concern, such as asking for forgiveness, at the end of many chapters such as chapter 15, where Huck apologizes to Jim for fooling him into thinking their separation was a dream when in deep fog, saying (at the end of the chapter), “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it… ” (followed by the quotation mentioned on the same page above).

An example of a suspense cliffhanger would be at the end of chapter four, when Huck lights his candle and goes upstairs only to find his father, who, as mentioned before in the story, is missing and who Huck fears because of his beating tendency, sitting in a location. Huck says (at the end of the chapter): “When I lit my candle and went up to my room that night there sat pap-his own self! leaving the reader curious as to what will happen in the next chapter with his father (“pap”). Chronological order in Huckleberry Finn allows for literary cliffhangers, adding to the story’s suspense and leaving an idea in the reader’s mind. An example of the preservation of plot and character information in Great Expectations using a chronological sequence of events is in the fact that Pip only gives information after it has been revealed as the plot develops.

Although obvious, it is one of the most important themes of chronologically told stories, considering how the story would be like if all character and plot information was revealed in their introduction rather than how it was actually revealed. Examples of this are how Pip does not tell of his final relationship with the convict when he first meets him and when he does not tell of the convict’s relationship with Estella or Jaggers’ dual relationship with the convict (his lawyer and the father of his maid’s daughter) as soon as familiarity is established with these characters.

Whenever implying that a future character may be a major one, such as when Pip introduces Jaggers to the reader at Miss Havisham’s house, saying “He was nothing to me, and I could have had no foresight then that he ever would be anything to me, but it happened that I had this opportunity of observing him well,” Pip does so as to not encumber the readers’ mind with guessing how much the new character may be related to Pip and instead touches the character enough for the reader to express familiarity when the plot and motifs (such as Jaggers’ hands smelling of scented soap) develop later on.

This vague allusion allows the reader to search for more subtle things in the novel such as recurring themes, such as Pip’s repentance, and motifs, such as Pip’s relationship with his name which means “the seed of a fruit,” with ease. Therefore, the chronological sequence of events in the story allows the reader to comprehend certain events at certain times, recognize character-specific themes and motifs, and prevents the reader from getting confused as the plot develops.

The act of providing foreshadowing is not recurrent inside Huckleberry Finn as it is in Great Expectations, nor are plot twists changing the relationships between characters entirely. For example, in Huckleberry Finn, Huck (virtually) never displays any knowledge of future actions, even though he tells the story in past tense (so that the story occurred before he began telling the novel). Instead, Huck solely concentrates on the matter at hand and the main concerns and motifs in the novel are inextricably connected to the general plot, unlike those in Great Expectations.

The straightforward language Twain uses allows readers to concentrate on things which take more concentration, such as themes, such as superstitions coming true, or motifs, such as logical thinking. Even the main motif of chronological events, Huck and Jim moving across the Mississippi River representing the passage of time and the search for freedom, directly connects to the plot because their travels over the Mississippi River consist of a large and important part of the story.

Therefore, the straightforward chronological sequence allows for the reader to concentrate on matters pertinent to the themes and motifs and also may connect with a central concern in the story. In conclusion, the chronological series of events accomplishes three goals in both stories. First, in Great Expectations, it allows the reader to view Pip’s interpretation of the happenings from both mature and immature perspectives, thus allowing a grasp of Pip’s character. Huckleberry Finn accomplishes the same goal, but instead by describing actions as they had just occurred and by not showing useless remorse.

Second, the serial form of Great Expectations, also a form of “chronological” storytelling, allows Dickens to create enough suspense or anxiety to persuade the reader to read the next chapter. Twain also uses this style of ending chapters, but generally produces less effect than Dickens. Third, by not telling of future knowledge before it has been revealed in the plot, both Dickens and Twain prevent confusion and ensure a clear portrayal of themes and motifs. Hence, the chronologically told and serially written novel allows for clearly articulated and firmly established character portrayal, suspense, themes, and motifs.

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Chronological Order & Its Uses in Great Expectations and Huckleberry Finn. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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