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Great Expectations was written by Charles Dickens in 1860-1861 it was about a young boy named 'Pip' telling his story growing into maturity. This was said to be one of the best opening novels of all time and Dickens cunningly uses techniques to keep the reader interested as the story 'Great Expectations' was published in a magazine called 'All Year Round'.
I will be analysing the effectiveness of the opening chapter in the story of Great Expectations. It was written in 1860-61 in a weekly magazine called 'All Year Round'. Therefore Dickens had to have a powerful and memorable opening chapter for his readers to be engaged in the story right from the start.
The start of Great Expectations has immediacy as it introduces the character the (protagonist) 'Pip'. Starting off with 'family' shows a great sense of identity which has a purposeful meaning. Furthermore we feel sympathy right from the beginning, this is because Pip talks about the loss of his parents on the 'authority of his tombstones' this shows that Pip even as a young boy knows about his family's gravestones. This is made possible for Pip as he has a visual language and he is always making judgements, 'Regarding what they were like'.
The readers will know that they will get Rags to Riches story. This is because by reading the opening line straight away, the readers will know that the story is written in 1st person. Also this story demonstrates a situation in which a person in this case Pip rising from poverty to wealth. Therefore we will be drawn into the text, which will engage us more with the character and also have an empathetic understanding with Pip. Charles Dickens wrote some of his story in Rags to Riches style, it is probably because it happened to him in reality and young men back in those days would have big ambitions and to first of all do that they would have start off from growing in poor families.
The story is told by a man named 'Pip' as he grows into maturity. Pip tells us that he has changed his name from 'Phillip Pirrip' which he says is my 'Christian name' to 'Pip'. This shows that in Victorian England most people would have a Christian name as their forenames. By him telling us this, the readers will be more engaged with Pip telling the story himself as well as him having a sense of personal identity. Dickens also cleverly makes us think of the way that 'Pip' meaning a seed and the boy growing up being nurtured and looked after, just like a seed would.
The first few words which are spoken in the story by the characters were 'terrible voice' shouting 'hold your noise!' The 'convict' behaves unpredictably towards Pip, "he seized me by the chin". I suppose he acts this way in order to frighten Pip and get the superior hand over him. We can straight away realise who has the most power and who is powerless. On the first read we see that Pip is powerless because he is being commanded and overpowered by the 'convict' who we think has the most power against Pip, this is because he asks Pip to bring him 'files and wittles'. It is very rare that an escaped convict would go up to a young boy in a 'graveyard' which is where this opening chapter takes place, and asks him for those materials. Immediately questions are raised in our minds, especially why he would need 'files'. However thinking twice about it Pip has an identity and has a home, with grownups to look after him. He can also report the convict to them or the police. Dickens first portrayal of the convict is unsympathetic and therefore we feel we want to be against the convict especially when he threatens to tear his 'heart and liver' as a consequence. However later on he changes to become more sympathetic.
Dickens' description of the convict, uses very sympathetic words, such as "stung by briars" and "torn by nettles", this builds up some suspense as it gives the reader a fearful impression of the convict. This also suggests that nature has done bad and these horrible things to him. This clearly demonstrates that he is brought down powerless. I think that Dickens has become successful, because he can show us how nature can do horrible things to us in this occasion being the convict. In my opinion I feel that I am becoming more sympathetic to Magwitch as the story goes on because of the way he returned favours to Pip.
The reader unhesitatingly knows that Magwitch, (the convict's name), is one of the many antagonists throughout the novel. We know this because of the convict's aggressive behaviour throughout the opening chapter, "turned me upside down and emptied my pockets". However, we then get the idea that he is not as formidable as he appears. This is because Magwitch warns Pip about the consequences of not bringing him the required materials and says 'you go from my words'. In this quote he is saying that Pip can make his own decision whether to bring him the materials or not but there will always be a consequence as he was scaring Pip by talking about 'The man' who's hidden within. In this case I think that Dickens has been successful portraying Magwitch as the one with the more knowledge and being superior by threatening Pip. As a result of this Pip becomes scared as he quite young and does as he is told.
This would make Magwitch more vulnerable this could mean an extended prison sentence, being hanged all of these were punishments in Victorian England if he was to get caught. Overall Magwitch does not have any power as he is isolated. He also takes bread from Pip, bread was symbolically relevant because it is an everyday use which a young boy has and which the convict doesn't. Therefore it is another reason for us to think that he is powerless.
Magwitch talks about the mysterious character which he refers to as the 'young man'. Magwitch says this in advance to Pip as a consequence if he doesn't get him the 'files and wittles'. He explains how that 'young man will softly creep and creep' to get to Pip's 'heart and liver' and 'tear it open'. This is like speaking a word of warning towards Pip is to get the materials commanded by Magwitch if he doesn't do so the 'young man' will do bad things to Pip. We assume that he is a made up character whom Magwitch talks about to scare Pip in order to assure that he will bring the 'files and wittles'. On the other hand this 'man' could be the other man on the marshes, who we later find out his name being Compeyson. Now Magwitch and Compeyson are convicted of fraud and have both escaped and both of them being on the marshes around the same time is highly suspicious. This is why I believe that both convicted men are planning something together and are backing up each other in order for them to release the 'iron' on their leg, which shows that they have 'escaped' from prison.
The two items which Magwitch desperately needs are the files and wittles this is because:
As an escaped prisoner he has 'a great iron on his leg' this shows that because he has escaped prison he would still have the prisoner chains and in order to get them off he needs a file. Magwitch has asked this specifically to Pip as he finds out that his Sister's husband is a blacksmith and hence why to get the 'files'. In my opinion I think it's not just to escape it is also because he wants to do something later on, maybe turn his life around when he manages to get the iron from his leg off.
'Wittles' is most commonly referred to as food. Magwitch chooses to use the term 'Wittles' instead of food because, this story took place a long time ago and that was the word which was most commonly used back then. Another reason for this chosen word could be because of how long he has spent behind bars. Because of how long he spent behind bars his education might have been cut-short or the way he spoke English wasn't modern at that time.
I believe that Charles Dickens' 'Great Expectations' has very effective opening chapter because it is one of the most recognisable in the English world of literature. Dickens clearly portrays the use of advanced language that plants a comprehensible insight of the setting and the character profiles. He uses the main themes effectively to each characters and their setting around them (pathetic fallacy). His novels are a pleasure to read and he a succeeded a whole lot in this one just like all his other novels.