Dickens's Great Expectations opens with the narrator's memory of himself as a child. As an adult, he reflects on his younger self and acknowledges his innocence and ignorance, as in his description of how he came to imagine the family he never knew:

As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above," I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five brothers of mine - who gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in that universal struggle - I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trouser-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence." [1]

Although some of young Pip's candidness comes merely from the fact that he is yet a child, it also derives from being, as he describes himself, “sensitive" (67). Yet Pip's sensitivity could, in its more developed forms, go by another name: romanticism. In young Pip Dickens creates a character who expects good of the world, and who often likens beauty to nature, in true romantic style. This trait proves one which Dickens emphasizes by carrying it throughout the book, such that even at the very end, when Pip reencounters Estella, he tells us, "I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her" (536). Thus, Dickens places the personal value of a person, of their beliefs, their merits, and their attitude towards other people, as a prominent theme in the novel, and perhaps, as a sort of moral to the entire tale.

Questions

1. Both Pip and Jane Eyre suffer injustices as children. Pip reflects thus on his sense of having been wronged as a child:

Within myself, I had sustained, from my babyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice. I had known, from the time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious and violent coercion, was unjust to me. I had cherished a profound conviction that her bringing me up by hand, gave her no right to bring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts, and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this assurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary and unprotected way, I in great part refer to the fact that I was morally timid and very sensitive. [67]

How is Dickens's portrayal of the effects of injustice on his protagonist different from that of Brontë? How might each author's own experience have influenced his or her portrayals and what messages are they trying to send their readers about human nature?

2. Although the sorrow Pip felt as a child is clear throughout the story, Dickens manages to make the descriptions amusing without ever explicitly acknowledging the humor. What writing techniques does Dickens use to accomplish this?

3. How is Pip a typical or atypical child for his time?

4. How much of Pip's romantic ideals does Dickens intend to be an inherent trait and how much does he intend to be a result of his rearing or his class? What sort of message might Dickens be trying to send?

5. As the narrator of the story, the older Pip can add his own tone to the telling of the tale, and Dickens, through him, can convey how he wishes the reader to perceive sections of the story. Is the reader supposed to sympathize with young Pip's point of view? What about as he gets older? How does Dickens's style convey that?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 20 February 2008