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How does Dickens create sympathy for his characters in 'Great Expectations'?

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Introduction

HOW DOES DICKENS CREATE SYMPATHY FOR HIS CHARACTERS IN 'GREAT EXPECTATIONS'? Charles Dickens was born on February 7th 1812, the son of John and Elizabeth Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the naval pay office. He had a poor head for finances and in 1824 found himself imprisoned for debt. His wife and children (with the exception of Charles) were, as was normal, imprisoned with him. Charles was put to work at Warren's Blacking Factory, where conditions were terrible. When his father was released he was twelve and already scarred psychologically by the experience of the blacking factory. His father, however, rescued him from that fate and in 1824 to 1827 he attended school in London. His brief stay at the blacking factory haunted him all his life, but the dark secret became a source of both creative energy and of the preoccupation with alienation and struggle which emerge throughout his work. Pip's desire to become a respectable gentleman stems from Dickens' own experience, having come from humble beginnings. Dickens wrote 'Great Expectations' in 1860. The last half of the 19th Century was characterised by increasing poverty and social problems, especially in the cities and also by the beginnings of great movements for social reform. There were two common ways to survive poverty: crime or radicalism. Dickens used his novels to highlight the plight of the poor. He was also active himself in campaigning against social injustice and inequality. For example, in 1847 he helped Miss Burdett Coutts to set up and later to run a 'Home for Homeless Women'. ...read more.

Middle

Are the hands of the dead bodies, reaching up to drag him into their hell, like the soldiers who are trying to catch him and drag him back into his own hell? The reader can't help but feel sympathy for Magwitch when he says: "I wish I was a frog. Or a eel." The fact that the landscape and setting of this episode are so bleak and inhospitable leads us to be sympathetic with both of these characters. It is dusk, wintry, wet and windswept. Pip's description of the place sets the scene: ' ... and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea.' Dickens uses pairs of powerful adjectives and a rhythmic list of items to build up the image. This is almost like poetry. When he first describes Magwitch, Dickens uses this same technique of building a long rhythmic list of attributes with strong adjectives which build a very vivid image. Dickens read his books aloud at public readings and we can see how the pace of these descriptions, piling image after image would be very powerful. The last paragraph of this chapter echoes Pip's first description of the marshes but adds the blackness of the place and the gloomy images of the sailors' beacon and the gibbet: 'the only two black things in all the prospect that seemed to be standing upright'. ...read more.

Conclusion

In this chapter the reader cannot help but feel affection for Wemmick - for his ingenious creativity in the home he has made; for his care and love for 'the Aged'; and for his pride and delight in his achievement. Comedy is just one of the methods that Dickens uses to create sympathy for his characters. In this case he uses it to build a whole comic picture, but in other situations such as with Magwitch he uses it interspersed with fear and horror to invite sympathy. Great Expectations was first written to be serialised in weekly papers. This, to a certain extent, governed the style and characters as each chapter must be self sufficient and equally as exciting. This means that the pace and intrigue of the novel is kept constant which shows Dickens' great skill as a writer. Throughout Dickens' novels his careful choice of names indicates the characters well - Pip, a small sweet name for a small sweet boy; Magwitch - is he a witch? Or evil? In the first chapter he shows amazing descriptive skill, for example when referring to the cold, wilderness of the marshes. In chapter eight he manages to create huge sympathy for a character then take it away a few lines later. This shows his careful control over the reader's emotion. He also shows great skill when in chapter twenty five he successfully achieves comedy while creating sympathy for a character. By far Dickens' biggest achievement, which is sometimes lost in more modern literature, is his talent for telling a gripping and enthralling tale while highlighting the social issues of the day. 1 ...read more.

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