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How does Dickens create sympathy for his characters in Great Expectations? Focus on Pip and one or two other Characters you have studied In the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations there are a variety of reasons why sympathy is felt for the characters. I have chosen three characters from the novel to explain why the reader feels empathy for them. Firstly I have chosen Pip, the central character. The book narrates Pip’s life so the reader sympathises with him from a young boy to an adult.
For my other two characters I have selected Estella, an adopted child of the strange Miss Havisham, who has been taught morals and anger which despises men, and Joe Gargery, brother in law to Pip. Joe is a very fair, good-natured, easy-going kind of man. Perhaps as a result of his childhood experience of poverty, many of Dickens’s novels deal with the problems characters have making their way in the world from difficult starts.
His novels also portray a sense of sympathy and intent to make the reader feel sorry for the characters, an example of this is the novel Oliver Twist and his life as an orphan.
When Charles was 12-years-old, he was removed from school and sent to work in a blacking factory to help support his family. This childhood poverty and adversity contributed greatly to Dickens later views on social reform in a country in the throes of the industrial revolution, and to his compassion for the lower class especially the lack of rights children had in the 1800s, as this was a time when children were sent up chimneys or made to work in factories often with fatal consequences.
Even on his tombstone it reads; “He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering and the oppressed. Great Expectations is told in the first person by Pip when he is an adult looking back on his feelings as a child. Pip was an orphan, and therefore had never seen his parents and had not even seen photographs of them. “I never saw my father or my mother”, this triggers the reader into feeling sorry for Pip and also at the same time sets the scene for the rest of the story to give the pessimistic impression of Pip’s life. The reader is first introduced to Pip in a church graveyard.
Here Pip is described as a “small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry” so even before the arrival of Magwitch the reader realises that Pip is feeling scared and alone, so already starting to feel sympathy for him. Dickens has also created sympathy for Pip during his home life. Having no parents, Pip was brought up by his sister Mrs Joe Gargery; she is very hard on Pip using the “tickler” to beat him with and never accepting Pip as her own, which is why there is a general lack of love and understanding towards him.
One of the main events where the reader feels sympathy for Pip is when he is summoned to “play” with Estella at Miss Havisham’s timeless Mansion; it really opens his eyes to his standings in society. Pip is constantly being discouraged and put down. He is repeatably being called ‘boy’, which is very impersonal and demeaning. This in effect creates sympathy for Pip as the reader may feel that no one, especially a young child, should be treated like that.
Miss Havisham and Estella speak negatively towards and about Pip, which also creates sympathy for him. Because of this pip begins to feel vulnerable and worthless and as he leaves, he starts to cry. When we first meets Estella, the reader is unlikely to even like her let alone feel sympathy for her because of how she treats Pip, but over time our sympathy is built up for Estella as we see what Miss Havisham has done to her.
Estella has no parents and was adopted by Miss Havisham at an early age, the old spinster has brought her up in an unhealthy atmosphere where Miss Havishams hatred for men has been passed down to Estella, this was shown when she couldn’t understand why she was “playing” with a “common labouring boy” and Miss Havisham replied, “Well! You can break his heart”. “The freshness of her beauty has indeed gone…
” this is a description of Estella towards the end of the novel, and the reader is now sympathising with her because she was becoming like Miss Havisham after being treated poorly by a man. The final character that I am going to explain why the reader feels empathy for is Joe Gargery. Unlike the 1800s, Joe’s wife Mrs Joe Gargery runs the house and he has no say over what happens, at the beginning of the novel Joe stuck up for Pip when he was late home and Mrs Joe Gargery was after him with the “tickler”.
The reader feels sorry for Joe because not only did his wife take his name she also took his dignity, when she says “It’s hard enough being a blacksmith’s wife… “, and when “She pounced on Joe, and knocked his head for a little while against the wall behind him”. Another event in which the reader feels sympathy for Joe is when he goes to visit Pip as a gentleman. Pip feels ashamed by him and believes him to be common just like Estella thought of Pip.
“I knew it was Joe, by his clumsy manner of coming upstairs… the state of his boots being always too big for him, and by the time it took him to read the names on the other floors in the course of his accent”. Joe didn’t deserve to be treated this way and could of easily deserted Pip when he became ill and needed him, but Joe looked after him showing that he may only be a “common black smith” and was not a “gentleman” of the times, but was probably the hero of the novel.
In conclusion, Dickens creates sympathy for his characters successfully to make the novel interesting and to keep the reader involved in the story. He does this by using several dramatical devices to bring his characters ‘to life’. He has tried to help the reader understand the situations of the character in order to create sympathy for them. All the characters take a role in creating sympathy for each other by the way they tend to treat each other in the novel. Dickens uses a great amount of description and detail to convey this sympathy.
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