Childhood Influences in Great Expectations and the Kite Runner

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Michael Dennedy - Word Count : 1944
How do Dickens and Hosseini present the influence of childhood experiences in their novels ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘The Kite Runner’?

The influence of childhood experience is at the core of these novels as both of the main protagonists go through a rite of passage and change of character which is influenced by their contrasting childhood experiences.

In Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, the main character Pip grew up in southeast England with his harsh and blunt sister Mrs. Joe who raised him forcefully and often violently ‘by hand’ and her kind and loving husband Joe Gargery who is what many critics such as E.M Forster call “a flat character” as his personality and motives do not change throughout the novel. Despite later feeling that blacksmithing is below him, in the Victorian era, Pip would have been very lucky to have had an automatic apprenticeship due to Joe’s profession. In my opinion, two major events in Pip’s childhood affect him for the rest of his life: his fateful and terrifying meeting with the convict Magwitch, and his embarrassing and revelatory meeting with Miss. Havisham and Estella.

The first life-changing event for Pip is when ‘a fearful man… with a great iron on his leg’ named Magwitch approaches him in the graveyard where our protagonist’s parents lay. The Wordsworth Classics edition of the novel offers an illustration in chapter one by F.W Pailthorpe is provided which connotes that Magwitch is dark and frightful, although the illustrator used irony here as the criminal stands behind a gravestone which reads ’Sacred’; in my opinion this gravestone represents Magwitch’s true kind hearted nature. In these first chapters, we are introduced to the character of Pip who is the most important in the novel due to him being both narrator and protagonist. Despite his horror at meeting such a fearsome man, he is kind and compassionate towards him, instantly showing that Pip is overtly, a ‘good’ character. This and similar traits - such as compassion and conscience - in Pip's personality define his character throughout the novel as they are the core foundations in his personality. By showing this, Dickens creates a bond between Pip and the reader that keeps us interested and concerned about the rite of passage Pip endures and the eventual outcome of the events he experiences throughout the novel. This kindness can be seen in chapter forty one when Pip remains careful and conscious of the good ‘Provis‘ and despite the utter shame and discomfort he feels throughout, Pip respects that proper treatment is due to his generous yet seedy benefactor and that he ‘must save him, if possible’.

Pip constantly thinks back about his shortcomings and bad deeds, which drives him to be morally conscious of his actions. This trait in Pip's personality creates the initial storyline of the novel and constitutes the theme of ‘gentlemen’, as it is Magwitch's secretive philanthropy towards Pip for his kindness which creates mystery, 'Great Expectations' and false loyalty for Pip who is later sent to London to be schooled and turned into a gentleman. Throughout the novel Dickens uses the question of what makes a gentleman to create a social commentary. The materialistic Victorian mind-set saw gentlemen as being wealthy and aristocratic like the hateful Bentley Drummle however, a real gentleman is more like the altruistic and good Joe Gargery who is a ‘gentle Christian man’.

The second event in Pip’s childhood which I think, is the key catalyst to his change in character as his meeting with a woman who was made of ‘waxwork and skeleton’, Miss Havisham and her beautiful ward Estella whose name means star; something for Pip to aspire to shown by his concupiscence. This meeting introduces Pip to the theme of social betterment and class; it also introduces false hope and Miss Havisham's stratagem of creating hopeless aspirations and sham suspicions about the identity of his benefactor. In the...
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