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How does Dickens build tension and how does he set us up for the rest of the novel?

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Introduction

How does Dickens build tension and how does he set us up for the rest of the novel? Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations in the 19th century. Dickens was one of the best writer of his time and this is shown in the clever and subtle ways he builds tension in the first chapter, and sets us up for the rest of the novel. The novel is about Pip, (a small, lonely, vulnerable boy) and the way he grows up. His name suggests he will grow into a blossoming tree, but starts as a small fragile piece of that. The genre of Great Expectations is very much horror/tragedy because of the settings and the events with Magwitch. The setting in the graveyard on Christmas Eve makes it gloomy and frightening. Magwitch appears an intimidating, dangerous convict, however I don't believe that this is the real Magwitch. I think he acts out of the desperation of having no food and being so cold. The atmosphere is very tense as you are not entirely sure of what Magwitch will do to Pip. In chapter 1 of 'Great Expectations' Charles Dickens builds tension by setting the scene a bit like a horror story 'bleak place'. Bleak gives the impression that the setting is cold, bare and windy. Dickens used prophetic fallacy here to give the reader the idea that something bad will happen. ...read more.

Middle

'With no hat'. At the time Dickens wrote this every man, rich or poor, would have worn a hat to show their respectability, so therefore Magwitch's lack of hat would show his lack of respectability. Dickens also makes it seem like the whole world is against Magwitch. 'Lamed by stones', 'Cut by flints', 'Stung by nettles', 'Torn by briars'. I think that this could also mean that Magwitch isn't all bad but was turned that way because everything is against him. Magwitch hasn't got the guts to pick on some one his own size. 'He made a short run'. He was scared of adults because he would have been weak and tired after being on the run and wouldn't have had the strength to take on an adult. In addition if he lost against the adult he would be captured. As well as this a child would be easier to manipulate and would be less likely to tell the police. ' Magwitch goes easier on Pip once he knows that his parents are dead. 'Oh!' said he, coming back'. By going easier on him it shows he has a conscience, and Pip being and orphan affects him. 'Who'd ye live with - supposin' your kindly let to live, which I han't made my mind about?' He is still trying to keep up that he is likely to kill Pip, so as to scare him into doing what he wants, but actually has no intention of doing so. ...read more.

Conclusion

Great Expectations is a good insight into life in the 19th century because there are several links between Pip and Dickens, such as the class Pip is, how poor people lived and also about the everyday life. Dickens builds tension very effectively in the first chapter using several different techniques. He uses the surprise of Magwitch appearing, repetition and Magwitch's power over Pip. The opening chapter sets us up well for the rest of the novel because Dickens gives us enough information with the right amount of tension to make you want to read more. You get clues about what could happen in the rest of the novel but you cannot be sure of the path Pip will take. Will Pip help Magwitch and what will happen if he does/doesn't? Will Pips life get better and if it does how? Dickens misleads us in the first chapter, as later on in the novel Magwitch gives a lot of money to Pip that is something we do not think would happen. Firstly we do not expect Magwitch to make a kind gesture like this because of the type of character he is portrayed as. Secondly we d not expect him to have that amount of money as he is on the run and a convict. Dickens doesn't give much away but makes you ask questions; this will make you want to read on. ...read more.

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