Analysis: Chapters 1–3
The first chapters of Great Expectations set the plot in motion while introducing Pip and his world. As both narrator and protagonist, Pip is naturally the most important character in Great Expectations: the novel is his story, told in his words, and his perceptions utterly define the events and characters of the book. As a result, Dickens’s most important task as a writer in Great Expectations is the creation of Pip’s character. Because Pip’s is the voice with which he tells his story, Dickens must make his voice believably human while also ensuring that it conveys all the information necessary to the plot. In this first section, Pip is a young child, and Dickens masterfully uses Pip’s narration to evoke the feelings and problems of childhood. At the beginning of the novel, for instance, Pip is looking at his parents’ gravestones, a solemn scene which Dickens renders comical by having Pip ponder the exact inscriptions on the tombstones. When the convict questions him about his parents’ names, Pip recites them exactly as they appear on the tombstones, indicating his youthful innocence while simultaneously allowing Dickens to lessen the dramatic tension of the novel’s opening.
As befits a well-meaning child whose moral reasoning is unsophisticated, Pip is horrified by the convict. But despite his horror, he treats him with compassion and kindness. It would have been easy for Pip to run to Joe or to the police for help rather than stealing the food and the file, but Pip honors his promise to the suffering man—and when he learns that the police are searching for him, he even worries for his safety. Still, throughout this section, Pip’s self-commentary mostly emphasizes his negative qualities: his dishonesty and his guilt. This is characteristic of Pip as a narrator throughout Great Expectations. Despite his many admirable qualities—the strongest of which are compassion, loyalty, and conscience—Pip constantly focuses on his failures and...
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