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How does Charles Dickens create an effective opening to Great Expectations?

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Introduction

GCSE English Pre 1914 Literature How does Charles Dickens create an effective opening to 'Great Expectations'? Great Expectations is a story, published in 1860, about a boy called Pip. The story follows Pip's journey from a small, working-class boy, to a distinguished gentleman. Of course, it wouldn't be a story without significant events and characters throughout and Great Expectations doesn't disappoint. Firstly, Pip has a rather uncomfortable encounter with Magwitch, an escaped convict and is forced to steal a pie and some brandy - or 'whittles' - and a file. Magwitch, at first, does not seem to have an important role in the story, but his significance will be revealed. Pip then starts to visit a lady called Miss Haversham and a 'beautiful' girl called Estella. These visits inspire him to become a Gentleman and after six years of being a Blacksmith's apprentice, it is revealed that a secret benefactor has paid for Pip to move to London. After a while, Pip meets an older Estella and his benefactor is revealed as Magwitch. By now, however, Pip has become a snob and is very displeased to see Magwitch. During the rest of the story, further events take place but, eventually, Pip's experiences teach him to become a wiser, kinder and less selfish person. ...read more.

Middle

Whereas 'Pip' is very short and sweet, giving the impression that he is friendly, honest and simple, 'Magwitch is quite sharp and evil sounding, with the two syllables in the name maybe hinting at two sides to him. Both of these names effectively reflect the personalities of the characters that they belong to. The character of Pip, as the name suggests, is described as a "small bundle of shivers", as "undersized" and as "not strong". This puts him into comparison with the large, bleak landscape that surrounds him and gives the impression that Pip is lonely, scared and vulnerable. By comparison, Magwitch is described as "a fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg". Unlike Pip, this creates the impression that Magwitch blends into the landscape and does not seem out of place in the bleak, dull surroundings. Magwitch is then thoroughly described as "broken shoes, old rag around his head, soaked, smothered, lamed, cut, stung, torn, limped, shivered, glared, growled and teeth chattered". This long sentence, typical of Victorian literary style, gives a detailed insight into Magwitch's appearance and will allow the readers to create an image in their mind. Also, due to the sentence being fast paced and long, it acts as a build up to the point when Magwitch seizes Pip's throat. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is only when Pip is first grabbed by Magwitch, he "pleaded in terror", but after this he appears very cool and collected. Overall, Charles Dickens has succeeded in creating an effective opening to Great Expectations. The immense detail used in the scene setting makes the story very interesting and helps the reader to create a vivid picture in their mind. It also helps to hook the readers by preparing them for the rest of the story. Significantly, the main reason that the readers will probably read on is because a lot of unanswered questions, such as where might Magwitch come back into the story, are left and will inevitably have their answers revealed later on. Dickens has also succeeded because of his widely contrasting characters of Pip and Magwitch. Themes are also hinted at during the opening chapter. One of these is social class, in that Pip dreams of becoming a gentleman and reveals a path that the story may take later on. Additionally, due to the significance and interesting complexity of Magwitch in the first chapter, you would think that he will also be significant later on in the story. This should give the readers yet another reason to read past the first chapter because most will probably find Magwitch a fascinating character to read about. When all of these techniques come together, it is easy to see that Charles Dickens has created magnificent opening foundations for Great Expectations. ...read more.

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