Charles Dickens begins The Great Expectations illustrating the temperament, thoughts, and feelings of the main character. Pip narrates the story from a future time, explaining the events of his past, and leaving out very little detail. Pip describes his childhood experiences with the voice of an adult. Even with eloquent language, Pip conveys the thoughts and mindset of a child. Similarly to the orphaned Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte's novel, the narrators look back and analyze their childhood selves, describing in great detail the many instances of neglect, abuse, and mistreatment. These accounts serve to immediately align the reader with the main character, creating an emotional investment in his wellbeing. The descriptions of Pip's abuse are described in extensive detail, as he views his entire childhood through a series of these events. Though he does have a positive relationship with his sister's husband, Joe, he speaks little of their interactions while he elaborates on the great injustices done to him. Pip's reasons that his personality was born of way he was treated by his sister, and casts her in a negative light;.
My sister's bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter. 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 the fact that I was morally timid and very sensitive. [Chapter 8; location in complete text of the novel]
Pip's intrinsic understanding of injustice follows him in childhood and beyond. His description of his upbringing shows self pity and anger at his sister. It also exhibits pride, detailing the way that he was able to maintain his sense of fairness during all of her abuse. His sensitivity and motivation, gained through his traumatic childhood, accompanies him throughout the rest of the novel.
1. Pip talks of the concept of justice to children, how small injustices are so strongly felt. He relates it to the way he was brought up. How is this similar to or different from the injustices experienced by Jane Eyre? How does the narrator in each piece feel about justice in relation to the past in comparison to the present?
2. What is Dickens purpose in having the main character, a child, be mistreated and abused by his elders? How does he utilize this characterization in similar or different wants than Charlotte Brontë?
3. Dickens breaks up his writing with many commas, creating pauses between thoughts. What purpose does this serve? How does it aid in conveying the particular ideas present here?
4. How does the way that Pip refer to himself in the past parallel to the way Jane Eyre speaks of her childhood? What is the purpose of analyzing the psychological progression of his childhood? How does he judge himself in the past?
5. Was Pip's treatment an accurate depiction of how children of the time were treated and valued? How did his status of an orphan effect the way he was seen and treated, particularly in the context of both the time period and his social class.
Last modified 18 February 2008