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How does Dickens use characterisation and description to set the scene in Great Expectations?

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Introduction

How does Dickens use characterisation and description to set the scene in Great Expectations? The novel Great Expectations was first published in 1861 in Charles Dickens own magazine, Household Words. A small number of chapters were in each issue which were released every 3 to 4 weeks in a series format. The magazine left many cliff-hangers, much like soap operas nowadays, so readers would purchase the next magazine to continue reading the story. My essay will focus on chapter 1 and chapter 8 and I will talk about where Pip meets Magwitch and where Pip meets Miss Haversham. In chapter 1, we are introduced to the main character Pip and the graveyard. Dickens puts emphasis on describing the graveyard in the opening paragraphs. When describing the graveyard Dickens uses a variety of literacy techniques in order to create a vivid illustration of the graveyard in the readers mind. One such technique is metaphor usage; 'distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing' is a use of this technique. The passage is used to create a tense, dark atmosphere but also prepares the reader for the entrance of Magwitch. A lair is generally associated with beast creatures for example, bears or lions and together with the wind is rushing creates an image of a beast like creature coming out rapidly towards you, leaving you helpless. ...read more.

Middle

A method similar to colour symbolism is object symbolism, Dickens talks about a 'gibbet' and a 'beacon' which are not that significant when first mentioned but are connected with what happens further on in the story. When Magwitch is convicted he is sentenced to hanging, which would have taken place on a gibbet. Also when Magwitch is trying to escape he wants to leave by boat, which would have been guided by a beacon. Despite the objects are of no consequence at first, they show what is going to happen towards the end of the book. In chapter eight we are introduced to Miss Haversham, Estella and Satis house. When Dickens is describing the scenery and characters in this chapter he again uses a variety of literacy techniques. When Pip first arrives at Satis house there is a repetition of the word bars, bars are normally associated with imprisonment and this represents what has happened to Miss Haversham. She has locked herself away from love and people, just as she would if she was in prison, and has locked Satis house from love and people as well. The quote, 'had a great many iron bars to it.' shows how Satis house has been locked away from the outside world and reflects Miss Haversham's position therefore making it pathetic fallacy. ...read more.

Conclusion

And finally Miss Haversham, who is described again from the point of view of Pip. She wears, 'Rich materials-satins, and lace, and silks' and we assume that she is upper class by her clothing and her house. The sentence structure helps to increase the tension before Pip first sees her; we think she is going to be a ghostly character and what is described is that. When she talks it is in a quiet, distant tone but she very manipulative in what she says. 'Play, play, play' is a quote which shows how in control she is, by having so much sympathy with her she is able to manipulate people because they don't want to hurt her feelings. So even though she may seem a disturbed character she is not the mental case everyone thinks because she is in total control of everything regarding her. She constantly questions Pip which makes him feel very uncomfortable and reluctant to do anything to hurt her feelings, so really she is getting him ready to be her new toy that she controls. So in conclusion, Dickens uses a variety of literacy techniques to set the scene in Great Expectations and also to create strong complex characters, such as Magwitch and Miss Haversham. Sion Atkinson Page 1 5/9/2007 ...read more.

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