The criminal’s constant threats towards Pip shows how desperate he is for food, and how in need he is for some help or hospitality. Then, Pip says ‘Good night sir’ and the criminal responds in saying ‘much of that! ‘ almost in a friendly, bantering type of way, just to lighten the mood. He then says something humorous ‘I wish I was a frog, or a eel’ and makes a joke out of having to stay the night in the cold, wet marshland.
It’s almost as if, being human, he just needs a little bit of a joke or normal conversation – this perhaps would make some of us warm to him and be reminded that he is an actual human being with feelings.
Dickens then tells us of how he ‘hugged his shuddering body in both his arms – clasping himself, as if to hold himself together’ this makes us feel sorry for the criminal now too, as he is vulnerable and needs some love and care also, in fact, the way he hugs himself could be him not only warming himself up, but comforting himself and deriving whatever imitation of love he can, to make himself feel better.
In saying ‘clasping himself, as if to hold himself together’ we can recognise that this man is falling apart. He is cold and hungry and has nowhere to go; this makes us feel sympathy for him.
When Dickens says ‘in my young eyes’ it reminds us that it is Pip that is witnessing the man suffering, and perhaps indicates that Pip wouldn’t be so afraid of the man, and that if he were to do as he wished, it would be out of the good of his heart, as a man in such a state could never come looking for Pip.
Dickens then says he was ‘picking his way among the nettles’, ‘as if he were eluding the hands of dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in’. This gives us the impression that this desperate man with nothing to loose is constantly trying to avoid death.
Dickens goes on to describe the man ‘like a man whose legs were numbed and stiff’ – this simile tells us that the criminal is walking badly and is suffering physically – even though he is stronger than Pip, he is still only half the man he could be in terms of strength. Dickens tells us that the man is ‘still hugging himself with both arms’ and ‘picking his way with sore feet’ which indicates that the man is in dire need of some form of comfort. As Pip looks over his shoulder, and stopped to look after the criminal, it shows that he cares for his welfare and because of this we as readers do also.
The writer uses the phrase ‘the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed’ to make us aware that night is approaching. As Pip looks over his shoulder, he spots a ‘beacon’ in the distance which is a symbol of life in the way that it emits light, and guides sailors on the rough seas to safety. He also spots a ‘gibbet’, in a way a symbol of death, it also had chains hanging off It and used to be the home to a body of a pirate to ward off other pirates – a threat of what would happened to them should they come on land.
This is another reference to the historical context – as there are very few pirates nowadays. The fact that the convict was ‘limping towards this latter’ indicates that he is being associated with death – he is on the edge of it and almost has no hope. Dickens makes this connection explicit when he says ‘as If he were a pirate come to life, and come down, and going back to hook himself up again’ – a clear image and a simile directly associating the criminal with death. When Dickens says the thought gave Pip ‘a terrible turn’ we are made aware definitely that Pip pities the convict, and because he does, we do too.
Finally we are told that Pip ‘looked all round for the horrible young man’ which even after his mature display of sympathy for the criminal, reminds us of his childish naivety- as the horrible young man clearly doesn’t exist. Although Pip probably isn’t as afraid of the criminal anymore, he is still scared of the ‘horrible young man’ – ‘I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping’. The fear of this young man indicates that Pip will almost certainly return food to the criminal the next day.
I think Dickens chose to start his novel in this way as it would give the readers an idea of the type of boy Pip – the main character was. It would make the reader warm to him and also make them question what would happen next. The starting chapter pinpoints an event from Pip’s life, and the audience is left wondering where the story will go next, if not for their own interest – for Pips. As the opening is so effective the audience will be concerned about what might happen next to pip and therefore they will feel obliged to purchase the next issue of the magazine (at that time) in order to see where the story goes.
Overall I think that the opening to this novel is extremely effective. Charles Dickens’ writing style is superb. His constant use of sharp contrast in his work creates an astounding effect, as well as his use of alliteration, and repetition to build up tension. I would certainly want to know what happens next in the story and I think many others would too. Dickens really did achieve his goal of pulling people into the story and making them ask questions about what would happen next – a superbly written opening to his novel in my opinion.