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How does Charles Dickens present Victorian Childhoods as frightening and intimidating in the opening chapters of Great Expectations?

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Introduction

How does Charles Dickens present Victorian Childhoods as frightening and intimidating in the opening chapters of Great Expectations? Great Expectations is a novel revolving around the protagonist and narrator of the novel, Pip, whose life is moralised and shaped through two major events that take place in his life. In the opening of the novel, Pip is faced with a mysterious encounter with an escaped convict, Magwitch. Near the end of the opening chapters, Pip is faced with another trial where he meets respected lady, Miss Havisham, who is trying to hatch her revenge against men through the help of her faithful apprentice, Estella, using Pip as her first victim. The novel was published in the 1860's during tough Victorian times. I believe Charles Dickens was inspired by his own life. When he was 12, his father was imprisoned for debt, during this time Dickens was sent to work in a boot-blacking factory. In the novel I believe that Dickens portrays his life through the protagonist Pip. Many other books written by Dickens are also written from his experiences in life like Oliver Twist and Hard Times. Dickens' sets a very "bleak" mood at the beginning of the novel. He describes an isolated marsh near where Pip lives, the grey weather, and the cemetery with Pip's deceased parents' graves, "derived" from their own tombstones. The churchyard was described to be gloomy, old and unkempt. The use of strong adjectives and the idea of it being "overgrown with nettles" imply this. ...read more.

Middle

She persuades Pip to believe that he should be grateful for what she does to him by constantly complaining of the burden Pip is to her. Dickens describes Mrs Joe as a quite scary and ugly lady "tall and bony" and "black hair and eyes". Dickens ironically uses the word "Tickler" for the stick that Mrs. Joe beats Pip with so unmercifully. The word tickle suggests a tingling or itching sensation, as from light touches or strokes. But, in the novel, "Tickler" suggests extremely harsh and painful beatings. Joe Gargery plays the father-role and tries to save him from the cruelty of Mrs. Joe. Joe grabs Pip and "passes him into the chimney, quietly fencing me up there with his great leg" in comparison to Mrs Joe, Joe Gargery seems like the hero, he protects Pip and is described to be very strong "great leg". Pip is warned by Joe Gargery when Mrs Joe is approaching him "she's got the Tickler with her" Pip stands waiting "twisting the only button of his waistcoat round and round" as if the beatings have been taking place all his life and he was very aware of what was about to happen, having no choice but to stand and wait for her beatings. At the beginning of chapter 8 Pip is sent to visit Satis House. Everything at this house has stopped and then began to slide into decay when Miss Havisham was abandoned on her wedding day. ...read more.

Conclusion

In many parts of the novel Pip is known to be wrongly ashamed of Joe, without knowing his true worth. The novel puts through Dickens' portrayal of a true gentleman, in the character Joe Gargery in contrast to the known Victorian definition of a "gentleman". Despite Pip moving up in class with the help of Miss Havisham and Estella he turns into a cold hearted, selfish and ungrateful person and doesn't realise that being a gentleman isn't related to class and money. The world was less advanced at the time when the novel was written which was in the 1860's late Victorian times. In 1859 Samuel Smiles wrote a book called Self-Help this told people that if they wanted to they could move up from lower class and become a person with a higher class, after this the 19th century was the age of the "self made" man. Society was strictly layered, and there was no middle ground everyone expected people to know where they stand. Dickens didn't like this. In his novel he explains this through Pip and also himself. He warns society about the consequences of adhering to a typical class stereotype. The main moral is to fulfil your life to the highest standard to suite your own ability without blaming your childhood. Its relevant for today because there will always be a social structure, and there will always be less fortunate people in the world, this novel is hope that there can be a change if they wish it. ...read more.

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