Assess the extent to which Great Expectations is a realist novel

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Assess the extent to which Great Expectations is a realist novel

The primary aim of the realist novel is to represent real life at the time in which it is written. The author aims to create for their reader a believable world and uses a number of techniques in order to do this. In order to assess the extent to which Great Expectations can be viewed as a realist novel this paper will aim to, firstly, look at the techniques used by Dickens which contribute to creating an illusion of reality and then draw to the forefront examples of inherent features of a realist novel and examine Dickens’ use of these features in the novel. Finally it will go on to address characteristics of other genres in Great Expectations and examine how the novel may fall outside our idea of realist.

        One of the first key ways in which Dickens creates an illusion of reality is through his use of narrative technique. In order to tell the story he employs a first person narrative in the form of Pip. The use of such narration draws in the reader immediately which helps the reader to quickly identify with the narrator and therefore believe in him. ‘So, I called myself Pip and came to be called Pip’[1] almost suggests that the narrator is personally introducing himself to the reader and the informal ‘so’ sets a tone with which the reader can feel comfortable. Furthermore, Dickens uses a dual narrative technique whereby Pip, as an adult narrator, tells the story of his childhood. This type of narration helps the author to create what would appear for the reader an honest and believable narrative. For example, ‘I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly’[2], shows how the narrator is able to comment on some of the naive ideas of his childhood and the reader sees this as the narrator honestly revealing information about himself. The use of narrative technique in order to create reality is reinforced by Dickens’ use of dialogue, whereby he represents the way in which people speak. Mrs. Joe Gargery’s utterance, ‘oh, a p-r-recious pair you’d be without me’[3] provides a good example of this. His use of the filler ‘oh’ and the extended ‘r’ sound along with the contraction ‘you’d’ show how is re-creating the true to life way in which people speak. Additionally he tries to re-create dialect in his work, for example Joe says to Pip ‘you and me is always friends’[4] and although not grammatically correct Dickens’ uses this in order to represent the true to life speak of someone of Joe’s geographical and social group.

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         Characterization and setting are also important elements in the realist novel. As Walder points out the construction of character is central to the aim of the realist novel[5] and this can clearly be seen through Dickens’ careful construction of the central character, Pip. Dickens uses the first chapter of the novel in order to draw the reader sympathy towards Pip and then as the novel progresses the reader follows the journey of growth both physically and morally. In the opening paragraphs we learn first of all of the demise of Pip’s immediate family followed directly by a scene of Pip in ...

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