Harriet Martineau recalls a dream she had when she was four years old in her Autobiography (1855). Martineau, like Pip, describes her earliest recollections in first-person point of view. Because Great Expectations is written in first-person, Pip's life story gains some of the credibility of an actual autobiography. Both Martineau and Pip recall the most frightening and disturbing images of their childhoods. Martineau claims that the impression of her terrible dream “is as fresh as possible now" and Pip describes his first impression as “vivid and broad." Dickens and Martineau both claim that terrifying images are the most memorable and are retained with the most clarity. Both refer to these memories as “impressions," stressing the stronger effect that frightening memories have on a person. Although Martineau does not understand exactly what made her dream frightening, and much of Pip's fear is irrational, the frightening images retain their importance because their power exists apart from reason. The silliness of a stag inviting Martineau into a public-house or of cows accusing Pip of thievery does not lessen the frightening impact of these images.

Martineau's and Pip's imaginative minds seem to work against them. The dream is filled with visual imagery presented as a bizarre montage. Perhaps the strangest element is the sun positioned within an arm's length of Martineau's mother. The frightening images resulting from Martineau's and Pip's imaginations serve to reveal their mental states. Freudian dream analysis applies directly to Martineau, whereas Pip's imagination can be more readily interpreted to show his guilty feelings. Guilt weighs on Pip throughout the novel. Consequently, his childish imagination stays with him through adulthood. Pip writes “a childish association revived with wonderful force in the moment of the slight action, and I fancied that I saw Miss Havisham hanging to the beam." Pip, age twenty-three, sees the same image that he imagined when he was seven years old.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last Modified 23 October 2002