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The opening three chapters of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations are effective as they grab the reader’s attention and keep them interested wanting to read more. This is what every author strives to do at the beginning of a novel. Charles Dickens’ does this by creating effects by using a variety of methods. The methods include vivid descriptions of characters, settings and the weather. Other methods include selected use of language to create atmosphere and mood. Alliteration and repetition are used as well as cliff hangers to create suspense at the end of chapters.
Pip, an orphan being raised by his sister and her husband, encounters a frightening man in the village graveyard. The man, a convict who escaped from a prison ship, scares Pip into stealing him some food and a file to grind away his leg shackle. Mrs. Joe, Pip’s sister beats him around but her husband is a kind man and Pip is expected to follow into his line of work as a blacksmith. Pip gets invited to the house of a rich woman, Miss Havisham is an old woman who was abandoned on her wedding day making her give up on life. She has an adopted daughter named Estella, Pip’s childhood crush which later becomes love.
Pip visits Miss Havisham regularly until she tells him his apprenticeship with Joe must begin and never to return. Pip is miserable with his becoming a blacksmith and worries Estella would find him “common”. Biddy, a young girl comes to care for Mrs Joe who was attacked and became severely disabled. Pip settles into normal life until he is approached by a lawyer who reveals strange news: Pip has inherited a lot of money from an anonymous benefactor, who Pip thinks is Miss Havisham who desires him to marry Estella, and must leave for London immediately, to become a gentleman.
In London Pip becomes friends with a boy named Herbert Pocket. Pip spends many years in London and remains ashamed of Joe as they grow apart. One stormy night learns the true identity of is benefactor, but a criminal, Magwitch; who Pip fed in the churchyard many years ago. Magwitch gave pip the money as a show of gratitude and also as he believes Pip reminds of his own child presumed dead. Magwitch wants to spend more time with Pip, but as he is still a wanted criminal who faces being hung when caught.
Herbert and Pip make a plan for them (Pip and Magwitch) to leave the country by rowing down the river and catching a streamer bound for Europe Magwitch’s old criminal enemy Compeyson follows them. Compeyson is the man who abandoned Miss Havisham at the altar.
Just before Pip flees the country with Magwitch he pays one last visit to Miss Havisham and finds her filled with regret wanting his forgiveness. She gets a little too close to the fire and ends up in flames, Pip rescues her but she ends up dying from her severe burns. Magwitch gets caught after trying to escape with Pip as he is told on by Compeyson. Compeyson and Magwitch fight and Compeyson dies, and Magwitch, badly injured is taken to jail. Pip discovers Magwitch is Estella’s father and tells him so before he dies. With no money Pip goes into business with Herbert. Joe and Biddy are happily married and have a child named after Pip. Pip visits Miss Havisham’s house one more time and finds Estella who wants Pip to accept her as a fried. When the novel ends it appears that Pip and Estella will finally end up together.
Chapter one is an effective opening chapter as the readers are made to feel sympathy for the main character Pip. As Pip is the narrator he introduces himself by telling us his name “…my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.” Through this the reader senses Pip’s vulnerability through his inability to pronounce his own name Philip Pirrip. The narrator is also made to feel sympathetic towards Pip as he is an orphan “…Philip Pirrip late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above were dead and buried…”
His loneliness and pity is further emphasised when the names of his dead brothers and sisters are list , in giving them names Charles Dickens’ makes them feel more realistic and in a way more alive. As this novel is set in the 1800’s it reinforces the high rate of infant mortality. Pip’s plight is also emphasised by the descriptions of his parents, “…The shape of the letters on my father’s gave me the odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man…” This may create sympathy as the Pip has to draw conclusions about his parents from their graves. All this sympathy and methods used to create sympathy for Pip are effective as the reader may want to read on to find out if Pip’s life improves later in the novel.
Dickens’ also keeps the readers interest by effectively describing the setting. Great Expectations was written at a time when the gothic genre was very popular. This was probably the reason why the setting is described with gothic features e.g.: dark. The example of gothic genre in chapter one is the graveyard. “Bleak place overgrown with nettles…” The setting is described in long complex sentences to give more detailed imagery. The imagery is used to describe the setting as quite an eerie place “…savage lair…dark, flat wilderness…”
This conveys how scared Pip must feel and sets the mood and atmosphere as something fearful to be awaited. This puts the audience on edge and makes them want to carry on reading to find out exactly what will happen. Dickens’ also uses pathetic fallacy to emphasise Pips emotional states. It also prepares the reader for the dangers ahead.
The introduction of the convict (later known as Magwitch) is also effective as the reader wants to know more about this violent character. The way the character is introduced is in a very dramatical way “…started up from among the graves…” He is introduced by him shouting orders at Pip “Hold your noise” this makes him sound violent from the outset. The way his speech is written makes him sound uneducated and from a working class background “…pint out the place…”
All of the convict’s speech is written in short sharp sentences and nearly always in the form of orders. Dickens’ may have done this to portray the character as someone to be feared which in turn may cause the reader to feel more sympathy for Pip as he has to take orders from the convict. The description given on the convict includes verbs such as “…soaked … smothered… lamed… cut… stung… limped… shivered… glared… growled…seized” are used. The verbs are all negative verbs may have been used to show that the convict has escaped from somewhere and is acting in sheer desperation. In a way the verbs and description may also lead to the reader feeling sympathy for the convict after all his been through.