How effective are the opening chapters of Great Expectations? Discuss the methods Dickens uses to ensure the readers’ continuing interest.
Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ was published in 1860 as monthly stories in magazines and newspapers. Dickens’ wrote novels and stories that were seen as social documents which meant that they portrayed what his society was like at the time. The industrial revolution was a time of mass poverty in Britain. There was homelessness, unemployment and massive divisions between the rich and the poor. This was the time when Dickens wrote ‘Great Expectations’ which therefore means it reflected those poverty ridden times. New advances in technology meant that honest workers lost their jobs to machines. No work meant that the lower classes were reduced to live the life of crime where they stole food to eat and goods to make money. The high crime rate led to great injustice and corruption in the court system. Crimes as measly as stealing a loaf of bread could be punished by death if you did not have the money to bribe the courts. The country’s previous prosperity and justified welfare had dropped into complete disarray.
When we are introduced to the main characters in ‘Great Expectations’ we are shown evidence of Dickens’ society straight away. The characters represent the gap between the rich and the poor. Characters from working class backgrounds like Pip are shown straight away and soon after this we are introduced to Ms Havisham and Estella who are upper class. The characters are first described in settings that go with their class. Pip in a rundown graveyard and Ms Havisham in her large mansion. When Pip meets Ms Havisham it is his first encounter with someone who is upper class. Before this meeting he had never known of the huge differences between the rich and the poor. Through these main characters we are shown the evidence of how rich people and poor people are different in every way.
‘Great Expectations’ is written in the first person from Pip’s perspective as he aspires to be the complete opposite of his working class background; a gentleman. After meeting Ms Havisham and Estella, Pip is left with envious thoughts as he wishes to be upper class. The main reason for this is that after meeting Estella he immediately falls in love with her. But Estella has been brought up by Ms Havisham to despise the lower class and treat them like vermin. Therefore Pip makes it his most important ambition to become a gentleman and be worthy of Estella. When Pip does become a gentleman he thinks that the funds for it came from Ms Havisham as she took a liking to him when he was a boy, but in fact, it is Magwitch that Pip has to thank for it. Magwitch had sent any money he earned to Pip after they first met in the graveyard.
In the opening and setting of the book, and in the first chapter as a whole, Dickens captures the readers’ interest which is important for any novel. This is done by immediately introducing us to the main characters and giving us reasons to empathize with them. This is important as it allows the characters to then develop over the novel. Magwitch is forgotten about for most of the novel until he is revealed to be the one who changed Pip’s life. Straight away there is action in the novel as, in the first chapter, Pip is in the graveyard when Magwitch attacks him and demands food. This makes the reader want to read on very much.
The readers’ interest is captured further because there are many themes introduced in the first chapter. The first theme is family as in the beginning Pip is in the graveyard visiting his parents’ and siblings’ graves. This theme is consolidated when we see the relationship between Pip and Mr and Ms Joe Gargery. The second theme in this novel is crime. This theme is introduced when we first meet Magwitch (the escaped convict). This is more evidence of this novel being a social document as it represents the crime ridden society that...
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