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How does Charles Dickens create sympathy for characters in Chapters 1 and 8 of 'Great Expectations'?

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Introduction

How does Charles Dickens create sympathy for characters in Chapters 1 and 8 of 'Great Expectations'? Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsmouth and was the second of eight children. His family was moderately wealthy, however when his father, after spending far too much money entertaining and retaining his social position, was imprisoned, the situation worsened. This had a profound effect on young Dickens and he would never be able to forget these harsh memories which he reflects on in his writing. Dickens has a strong social conscience and this is a major theme in 'Great Expectations', exploring the vast differences between the rich and poor and the attitudes surrounding this issue in the Victorian era. Pip is the protagonist and narrator of the novel. Events are recounted first hand through the eyes of a child and the impacts of events on the reader are heightened as a result. However, Pip is also describing events in retrospect; we see the story unfold not only from the fresh viewpoint of a child, but also with the hindsight of maturity. This adds to the credibility and causes his thoughts and feelings to seem more real and sincere. The first few paragraphs of 'Great Expectations' establish with immediacy the sad plot of the orphan Pip. It briefly describes how he came to be called Pip, with his father's family name being Pirrip, and his Christian name being Philip. He says 'my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer.' Instantly this gives us an indication that he is only young and his childish speech patterns are a warming characteristic, showing his innocent nature immediately and effectively. Also, the name 'Pip' can be associated with things tiny and minute, such as a pip in an apple, or a 'pipsqueak'. ...read more.

Middle

The turning upside down of Pip could also be a symbolic moment in his life; after meeting this man his whole world is turned upside down. Magwitch then asks for Pip to bring him a file, so he can sever his chains, and wittles as he is starving. He threatens to cut his 'heart and liver out' if he doesn't. As the reader we now know these to be mere tactics to scare Pip, as Magwitch gradually becomes less menacing as the chapter develops. However, Pip is no less terrified and this is almost amusing has the reader has insight into Magwitch's plan, especially when he threatens him with the 'young man' who will 'creep his way and tear him open'. He has simply invented this character to scare Pip and force him to be of assistance. The fact that Pip does believe this man really will hunt him down if he says anything is endearing to the reader and depicts his pure naivety. Dickens manages to present this supposedly frightful and menacing character in a way in which he is likeable and even humorous at times, such as when he says 'You young dog, what fat cheeks you ha' got'. The thought of him even considering eating Pip is laughable and he seems totally harmless. You even question whether he really should be in prison or if he was imprisoned wrongly. This was common in Victorian times as the legal system favoured the rich extensively and the poor often had very little or no defence in a trial. Magwitch also appears to be quite a pathetic and desperate character, as it seems even nature has turned against him when it describes how he has been 'soaked in water, smothered in mud, lamed by stones, cut by flints, stung my nettles, and torn by briars...' ...read more.

Conclusion

Dickens uses cold, dark, metaphors for the evil, dismal gloom trapping Satis house and all inside it, for example, 'waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.' The strange world is also shown through powerful descriptive setting. Droves of creatures inhabit her long forgotten, rather despised and discarded wedding cake which was left abandoned, 'speckle-legged spiders with blotchy bodies ran to and from the cobwebbed centre piece of the table.' The whole house was dead. Stopped. Smothered in cobwebs and sour hatred. Like Estella, Miss Havisham also has an intimidating nature, captured when she wants him to understand her grief and says, 'What I touch here, is my heart...Broken! Dickens cleverly captures her vengeful personality through her dialogue, when she says 'Does she grow prettier and prettier Pip?' Miss Havisham wants Estella to break Pip's heart, and so she does, by her often changing moods that are hard to understand. She has instilled her own bitterness in Estella, and is using her to get revenge because of her own sour hatred towards men. Characterisation is an extremely important aspect of 'Great Expectations' and Dickens develops the characters unique personalities, attitudes and motivations masterfully. The 4 main characters of these chapters - Pip, Magwitch, Estella and Miss Havisham are all shown to have no control over their own destiny. For example Estella is an orphan and was adopted by Miss Havisham, and even she, herself, could not change the heartbreaking outcome of her wedding day. He shows their vulnerability by placing them in environments which expose their weaknesses. Such as Magwitch in the marshes, when he is covered in wet, mud and cut and stung. Through dialogue, descriptive setting, atmosphere and first person narrative, Charles Dickens manages to create unique, intriguing characters which compel the reader and heighten the impact of the plot massively. Daniel Shannon ...read more.

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