Evaluate the effectiveness of the opening chapters in Charles Dickens 'Great Expectations'.

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Evaluate the effectiveness of the opening chapters in Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’

From the offset of the novel you are introduced to a gentle, infantile character. ‘My infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip’. His preference to use Pip over the boy’s real name, Philip, gives you the impression of the character being gentile and childlike. I believe Dickens chose to use Pip as it sounds like a youthful and angelic name as opposed to using something harsher, for example Grant where people’s perception may be different. I feel Pips name is an essential aspect in defining his character. Similarly, Dickens chose to call the villainous character Magwitch to portray a nasty, mean minded individual. The interpretations of these names are juxtaposed to describe the two characters conflicts in personalities. To justify my reasoning, if he had interchanged these names then I’m sure readers would find it peculiar that an innocent and gentle character is called Magwitch and a nasty and cruel character is called Pip.

The opening scene is set in a gloomy and scary churchyard ‘that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard’, ‘dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard was the marshes’. These quotes symbolise Pip as alone and isolated and the word ‘wilderness’ gives the impression the place is deserted. Although Dickens uses the stereotypical churchyard to open the novel it immediately starts to build a tense and exciting atmosphere. Dickens then describes that Pips parents and five brothers are buried at the churchyard. Naturally readers sympathise with Pip and Dickens strengthens our sympathy by reinforcing Pip as alone and scared ‘that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.’ Through doing this Dickens has played on the readers emotions and although only at the beginning of the novel, we already commiserate entirely with Pip.

Pip’s whimpering is interrupted when Magwitch threatens him. ‘Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!’ This is an extremely harsh and obviously very violent statement to direct at someone so young.

Magwitch then torments Pip by confirming that his life is in danger ‘the question being whether you’re to be let live’. This strong threat is used by Dickens to show the length Magwitch was prepared to go to get what he wanted. It also makes us feel saddened that a young innocent boy is being intimidated.

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The objective of the bullying becomes apparent when Magwitch demands ‘you get me a file and you get me wittles’ and Pip, who’d be dreadfully frightened and in jeopardy of his life had no option but to agree. Magwitch is then presented as animal-like ‘What fat cheeks you ha’ got, darn me if I couldn’t eat ‘em’. This description makes us believe he is terribly aggressive to treat a child in such a way. It’s obviously horrifying to tell a child you want to eat their cheeks and show primitive behaviour but we know it was only an empty threat ...

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