Pip the gentleman succeeds Pip the boy as the primary narrator of Great Expectations. Perceptible differences in language and tone signal the changing of the guard. Before Pip meets Mrs. Havisham and Estella, he seldom uses adjectives that betray distain for the community into which he was borne. However, after his first visit to the ancient mansion, the narrative reflects the damage that the old woman and her apprentice have done to Pip's self esteem.

In an early passage, Pip describes participating in a game with his sister's husband, Joe. The game involves taking bites from a chunk of bread and comparing the shapes of their respective remaining chunks.

In our already-mentioned freemasonry as fellow-sufferers, and in his good-natured companionship with me, it was our evening habit to compare the way we bit through our slices, by silently holding them up to each other's admiration now and then,--which stimulated us to new exertions. To-night, Joe several times invited me, by the display of his fast diminishing slice, to enter upon our usual friendly competition; but he found me, each time, with my yellow mug of tea on one knee, and my untouched bread and butter on the other. At last, I desperately considered that the thing I contemplated must be done, and that it had best be done in the least improbable manner consistent with the circumstances. I took advantage of a moment when Joe had just looked at me, and got my bread and butter down my leg.

Pip referred to this jame because because it almost revealed that he had stolen food for his convict, and it played an important role in the evenings events. Besides allowing that it happened, he has very little colorful description to spare on an activity that characterizes him as a commoner.

Later, when Pip enrolls in Mr. Wopsel's great aunt's school, he uses an abundance of adjectives to emphasize the school's dysfunctionality. Words such as “indiscriminate," “ragged," “defaced," “horrible," and “low spirited" reflect the emrgence of opinion in Pip's narrative style.

The Educational scheme or Course established by Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt may be resolved into the following synopsis. The pupils ate apples and put straws down one another's backs, until Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt collected her energies, and made an indiscriminate totter at them with a birch-rod. After receiving the charge with every mark of derision, the pupils formed in line and buzzingly passed a ragged book from hand to hand. The book had an alphabet in it, some figures and tables, and a little spelling, — that is to say, it had had once. As soon as this volume began to circulate, Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt fell into a state of coma, arising either from sleep or a rheumatic paroxysm. The pupils then entered among themselves upon a competitive examination on the subject of Boots, with the view of ascertaining who could tread the hardest upon whose toes. This mental exercise lasted until Biddy made a rush at them and distributed three defaced Bibles (shaped as if they had been unskillfully cut off the chump end of something), more illegibly printed at the best than any curiosities of literature I have since met with, speckled all over with ironmould, and having various specimens of the insect world smashed between their leaves. This part of the Course was usually lightened by several single combats between Biddy and refractory students. When the fights were over, Biddy gave out the number of a page, and then we all read aloud what we could, —or what we couldn't — in a frightful chorus; Biddy leading with a high, shrill, monotonous voice, and none of us having the least notion of, or reverence for, what we were reading about. When this horrible din had lasted a certain time, it mechanically awoke Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt, who staggered at a boy fortuitously, and pulled his ears. This was understood to terminate the Course for the evening, and we emerged into the air with shrieks of intellectual victory. It is fair to remark that there was no prohibition against any pupil's entertaining himself with a slate or even with the ink (when there was any), but that it was not easy to pursue that branch of study in the winter season, on account of the little general shop in which the classes were holden —and which was also Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt's sitting-room and bedchamber —being but faintly illuminated through the agency of one low-spirited dip-candle and no snuffers. [Place within the complete text of the novel]

Questions

1. Although Pip's tone changes throughout the book, Dickens endows that character with an extensive vocabulary and a sense of humor. Are these characteristics of Pip, or are they literary devices that are intended to intrigue the reader without shedding light on Pip's character?

2. How does Pip distinguish himself as a narrator from the narrators of other Victorian novels?

3. How does Pip's use of language and tone reflect the themes of the novel?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 18 February 2008