Great Expectations

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“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens Task: “How does the novel present Pip’s relationship with Magwitch, when he meets him in the graveyard and later when Magwitch returns form abroad to see Pip?” ‘Great Expectations’ is a novel that is set in the late 1860’s, in Victorian society, during the start up of the industrial revolution, which was speedily changing society. In chapter 1 of ‘Great Expectations’, the reader meets a young boy, ‘Phillip Pirrip’, although he is known as ‘Pip’, due to the reason that he can’t pronounce his full name. The fact that this issue is introduced to the reader right at the beginning of the story, and that the story is narrated by Pip and his own ‘voice’, is attention grabbing; his youthful innocence and naivety is interesting, and immediately gets the reader close to the character. Dickens introduces Pip at a graveyard, where he sets the scene. Pip is visiting the graves of his deceased family, trying to find his identity as well as remind himself and imagine what his parents looked like. Pip is an image of vulnerability, and this is a target for ambiguity to come.  Dickens does not state that Pip is an orphan; instead he allows his powerful use of words to demonstrate this. “My first fancies regarding what they were like, were reasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair… ‘Also Georgina wife of above’, I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly.” Dickens introduces Pip’s childish imagination into the sequence. Dickens implies that Victorian life and society was like this; there were masses of orphans, like Pip, due to numerous epidemics sweeping the nation, diseases like cholera and smallpox which were rife, and regarded as a ‘universal struggle’, this resulted in high mortality rates. You were generally considered lucky if you survived the high mortality rates. The involvement of this fact early on shows that death, and poverty was an everyday occurrence; it wasn’t an unusual nature, hence the matter of fact writing.         The weather in this scene creates a solemn yet dramatic tone. A negative pattern exhibiting raging storms, adding to the bleak and cold winter’s day atmosphere is vividly painted. It is a gloomy Christmas Eve’s day. Pip ventures out into these eerie ‘unknowns’, which later on prove to be a symbol that his life is going to change drastically too, where peril and ambiguity await. This also reinforces Pips perception on his situation. While Pip is attempting to bring up recollections at the graveyard, he is surprised by an escaped convict who jumps out rather cynically, from a ‘savage lair’, among the looming mists and graves, scaring Pip. The opposite usage of some comedy, at the beginning, and a sharp dramatic twist is attention grabbing. A contrasting backdrop, on to which the messages of the tale can unfold, is created. The reader can tell that the ‘mysterious man’ is a convict because of the way he is described. His condition is in disarray because of the poor living conditions in the hulks. They were overcrowded, leading to diseases that ended up killing many of the prisoners, and there was malnutrition from poor food. Hard labour was primed everyday too.  He has escaped from prison and the hulks (old ships moored on the coast), whilst awaiting exile (to penal colonies in Australia) for 14 years hard labour. (Returning before the end of his term he will face execution). “A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head”. This gives us an insight into the harsh conditions that were faced by prisoners during these times. This plight is shown further more; by the way this convict- Abel Magwitch is portrayed ferociously and pathetically.  The harsh and unjust judicial system at the time was the cause of this. Forging banknotes (like Magwitch had done) carried the same penalty as murder! Criminals were brutalised. They were not given chances to reform, instead faced beatings, as forms of punishment. At least 10 hours of daily hard labour was forced on prisoners. “Soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars…and glared and growled”. Dickens gives Magwitch with animal like qualities, and so we are provided with a greater understanding that he is at the end of his tether. He is a human that has literally been ‘weathered’, like a mere object. “A man with no hat and with broken shoes…soaked in water, smothered by mud, and lamed…limped and shivered”. Magwitch is desperate. This is shown by the way he speaks to Pip aggressively, and threatens him “keep still you little devil”, and also by the way he roughly handles Pip. “The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down and emptied my pockets”. When he tips Pip upside down a piece of bread falls out of his pockets. Magwitch scurries towards this. “He ate the bread ravenously”. The reader is reminded of his desperate, animal like status, and his plight. The tentative weather mirrors Magwitch’s character-a vast wilderness in the vein of a storm, which rushes into Pip’s life, suddenly, causing an upheaval of ambiguity like disturbance. Dickens tries to connect the characters with a descriptive background, to create a realistic character, building up a reinforced feeling to the passage, which ties in with characters personalities.                          Upon discovering that Pip lives with Joe- who is a black smith, Magwitch continues to act aggressively towards Pip, as he is useful to him. He makes a threatening demand. “You get me a file…You get me wittles…You bring them both to me…or I’ll have your heart and liver out”. He continues to threaten Pip, telling him that he can even be hurt in his own home if he betrays the convict. He tells Pip that he is not alone, and if he gets caught then the man along side Magwitch will attack him. “A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed… but that young man will softly creep and creep his way to him and tear him comparison with which I am a angel”. Pip is petrified. The prospect of this occurring (made worse by his youthful innocence), has given way to the sensation of helplessness that clearly covers him. “His eyes looked most powerfully into mine, and mine looked most powerfully up into his”. This highlights a key detail of status/position that will be seen in depth throughout the story; it’s a running thread
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for which it is a major theme. This is the ‘first landmark’ of Magwitch and Pip’s relationship. It is one of intimidation, and fear. Dickens uses of short, descriptive sentences help to achieve these visions.                                        Magwitch is a colourful, cunning and manipulative character, yet he loosens up his anger slightly towards Pip, when he learns that he is an orphan. It may show that Magwitch is an orphan too, and so shows slight sympathy towards him. Dickens may also be implying that Magwitch was provoked to turn to crime, as a result of becoming an orphan- fending for his self. ...

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