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How does Dickens create an effective opening in "Great Expectations"?

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Introduction

How does Dickens create an effective opening in "Great Expectations"? Dickens wrote "Great Expectations" in 1860-61 and it was originally serialised in the magazine "All Year Round" - one chapter being released weekly. Consequently, it was important for the novel to have an effective opening to hook the readers' attention and it was constructed in a way which would sell Dickens' magazine to make a profit. This meant that many of the chapters ended on a "mini cliff-hanger", although in the first chapter the focus would be more on creating suitably likeable characters and setting an interesting and readable scene. However, not only do we get a clear impression of the main characters - Pip and Magwitch through vivid description such as "a fearful man in all course grey", but the chapter also ends on a note leaving the reader wondering what will happen next. Will Pip bring the convict what he wants - will he tell anyone. This persuades readers to buy the next instalment. Dickens uses every technique deliberately and for a reason - to create something which will capture the readers' imagination. In the first chapter a memorable and imaginative scene is created by the author. First of all we are told the time in which it is set - late in the day - "a memorable raw afternoon towards evening". This description suggests that it is definitely getting dark as the word "raw" implies that it was cold and probably during winter. The reader can then begin to imagine the slightly eerie setting unfolding around a young boy, who really should be on his way home for the night. Not only is Pip outside when it is nearing the evening but he is also in the graveyard on the marshes. The surroundings are described as "a bleak place overgrown with nettles". Both the graveyard and the marshes, especially in the dark, would be very frightening for a child, and the reader knows this and so therefore can empathise with Pip and feel his fear. ...read more.

Middle

This makes the reader understand the reasons behind him being a convict and feel more lenient towards them. Magwitch also demonstrates a determined and hardened personality as he has shown the will to escape from prison and stay on the run for several days. This suffering has made him tough and frightening to Pip, who can see him as a crazed animal noticeably through his bursts of violence, where he grabs Pip round the chin for example. Magwitch also appears very desperate where he speaks about Pip's cheeks and says "Dam me if I couldn't eat 'em" with "a threatening shake of his head". This would be absolutely mortifying to Pip - a young sensitive boy to whom it is directed in the middle of a graveyard in the dark, but the reader can also see how terrible Magwitch's life must be to drive him to such thoughts.. Although he has been drive to a certain amount of madness, Magwitch still holds his morals - he could have killed Pip and eaten his flesh to keep him alive for a few more days and said he would "if I hadn't half a mind to 't" showing that through everything he has encountered he has still remained human. The sheer desperation and determination of Magwitch is also demonstrated in the threats contained in his speech. In order to make sure that Pip brings him what he needs to survive, he intimidates and scares him with a horror filled story of what would happen to him were he not to come back with the file etc. Magwitch describes an accomplice and says: "A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself in, may draw the clothes over his head, may think himself comfortable and safe, but that young man will softly creep and creep his way to him and tear him open", implying that Pip will be killed and his organs removed - terrifying for a young boy. ...read more.

Conclusion

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-70) experienced the good and bad of Victorian society. His childhood was troubled and he moved around with his family a great deal. At the age of twelve he was sent to work as the family were in major financial difficulty, only a few days later his father was sent to "debtors' prison" and his family, excluding him and his sister, lived in the prison aswell. This perhaps gave him the knowledge of being apart from his family apart from his sister - like Pip. He found fortune in becoming a writer - telling tales truthful and relevant to the times. Many of Dickens' novels address issues in society and in "Great Expectations" the author expresses many of his views and opinions, using the novel as a tool to show his philosophy on Victorian life. For example, Dickens quite clearly believes education and social position have no impact on potential in life, or kindness - the underdog can rise above others - in the case of Magwitch, who has defied the odds and made something of his life, at the same time as changing the life of someone else. Dickens is also trying to raise the issue, and make the public aware of the state of punishment and the legal system. Indeed, he in fact, had a job as a junior clerk for a legal firm but hated the laws and so quit. The simple fact that Magwitch was escaping from prison, without actually being a truly evil crook, must have had something to do with what faced him inside. He probably had only committed a small offence but may have been unfairly sentenced to the harsh Victorian prisons or death. Mostly Dickens just tries to provide entertainment while highlighting the issues of reality which he believes are a problem. Taking into account all the methods Dickens uses to make sure the reader likes the opening chapter and starts to build up a relationship with the characters - I believe he creates a very effective starting point, ensuring his audience will continue to buy his magazine. 1 ...read more.

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