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Evaluate the effectiveness of the opening chapters in Charles Dickens 'Great Expectations'.

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Evaluate the effectiveness of the opening chapters in Charles Dickens 'Great Expectations' From the offset of the novel you are introduced to a gentle, infantile character. 'My infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip'. His preference to use Pip over the boy's real name, Philip, gives you the impression of the character being gentile and childlike. I believe Dickens chose to use Pip as it sounds like a youthful and angelic name as opposed to using something harsher, for example Grant where people's perception may be different. I feel Pips name is an essential aspect in defining his character. Similarly, Dickens chose to call the villainous character Magwitch to portray a nasty, mean minded individual. The interpretations of these names are juxtaposed to describe the two characters conflicts in personalities. To justify my reasoning, if he had interchanged these names then I'm sure readers would find it peculiar that an innocent and gentle character is called Magwitch and a nasty and cruel character is called Pip. The opening scene is set in a gloomy and scary churchyard 'that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard', 'dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard was the marshes'. These quotes symbolise Pip as alone and isolated and the word 'wilderness' gives the impression the place is deserted. Although Dickens uses the stereotypical churchyard to open the novel it immediately starts to build a tense and exciting atmosphere. Dickens then describes that Pips parents and five brothers are buried at the churchyard. ...read more.


As Magwitch leaves the churchyard Dickens describes an eerie atmosphere. 'The other, a gibbet with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate', 'the sky was just a row of long angry black lines intermixed' The evil perception of a pirate and the negatively described sky make the atmosphere ghost-like. In the second chapter we get to understand about Pips home life. Mrs Gargery, Pips sister, caters for Pip along with her husband Joe. She pretends she doesn't care about Pip and gets annoyed with him easily. She is harsh and strict with Pip 'and what's worse, she's got Tickler with her'. A Tickler was a wax-ended piece of cane which was obviously used regularly to discipline Pip. This is probably the reason for his good manners why he calls her Mrs. Joe, an extremely formal way to address someone. 'If it warn't for me you'd have been to the churchyard a long time ago, and stayed there. Who brought you up by hand?' Mrs Gargery wants to be a martyr and be praised for bringing up Pip. In this quote Dickens uses a pun to explain that Mrs Gargery brought him up by herself and brought her up 'by hand' as she beat him when bringing him up. It was common in the Victorian era for the woman to stay at home and bring up the children as they had no place in society and they weren't allowed to work so it isn't surprising that this was the situation for Mrs Gargery. ...read more.


Joe, who has respected eating manners, is gentle, kind and caring as opposed to Magwitch's being characterized as animalistic and primitive. These traits are reflected in his eating. The use of 'snapped every mouthful' gives a loud onomatopoeic sound of him snapping shut his jaw. It also gives an image of him eating his food whole like a crocodile snapping closed its jaw after eating cattle. His eating is then compared to a dog 'The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog'. Dickens used the characters names and eating manners to describe characters regularly throughout these early chapters. I think this works well to describe Magwitch's animal-like characteristics. Although most likely frightened and intimidated, Pip courageously tries to make conversation with Magwitch 'I am glad you enjoy it'. Referring to the food he gave Magwitch, Pip still remains with the decency and kindness not to hate someone that has forced him into an undesirable situation. Contrarily, Pip adresses Magwitch as his friend. 'Leave any for him? Who's him? said my friend' Pip approves a friendship with Magwitch even after all the tormenting he had to endure. This shows his sense of forgiving and kindness. This quote also confirms that Magwitch made up the person he said he was hiding because he is completely unaware of who Pip is talking about. Dickens leaves the opening chapters on a knife-edge. 'The last I heard of him, I stopped in the mist to listen, and the file was still going.' Magwitch has left Pip but the ending is very open to the reader's imagination. This entices people to read on... ...read more.

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