Dickens wrote ‘Great Expectations’ in 1860. It is now well renowned for being a dark, atmospheric novel, set in 19th Century Victorian England. Charles Dickens is widely known today for the success of his novels, and his excellence in using fictional, atmospheric places in ‘Great Expectations’ to reflect the minds of characters and to explore significant themes, such as class, crime, and love. Dickens uses symbolic description to convey messages about these themes, thus creating appropriate atmospheres for the characters.
Dickens prepares the reader for the grimness of the novel as a whole by introducing melancholic places using literary devices. For example, the Kent marshes in Chapter 1, where Dickens uses symbols, personification, emotive imagery, and repetition in his description. Dickens opens Chapter 1 by using the setting of a churchyard to create an eerie mood. He describes the churchyard as ‘bleak’ and ‘overgrown’, stressing the grimness and the isolation of the churchyard during Pip’s encounter with Magwitch. Dickens also uses emotive imagery of Pip’s family gravestones.Order now
He stresses that all Pip has as a memory of his parents and his five brothers is the inscriptions carved on the family gravestones which Pip imagines as their actual appearances. Pip imagines his father as ‘stout’ with ‘curly black hair’, his mother ‘freckled’, and his five brothers being the shape of their ‘lozenges’ with ‘their hands in their trousers-pockets. ‘ This emotionally moves the reader, thereby creating sympathy for Pip right from the beginning, introducing the misery of the novel as a whole through the gloominess of the churchyard, the deathly tone preparing us for the theme of loss throughout the novel.
Dickens uses repetition of ‘nettles’ and ‘tombstones’ to perhaps suggest that the churchyard is a place of pain and death. This emphasises the sinister mood of Pip’s encounter with Magwitch by creating anxiety in the reader. Dickens also refers to the temperature being ‘raw’. He mentions that the afternoon was heading towards evening, suggesting that it was cold and fairly dark in the churchyard at the time, the darkness symbolising mystery and the unknown, adding to the vivid apprehensive atmosphere.
Dickens stresses a fearful tone throughout Chapter 1, using words such as ‘dead’, ‘black’ and ‘gibbet’, representing death, violence and crime. The repetition of ‘dead’ and ‘buried’ also creates a grim, dark and deathly mood. He describes Pip as a ‘small bundle of shivers’ and emphasises the whole setting as appearing ‘threatening’ to Pip by stressing the imagery of the aggressive sea, the comparison of the wind ‘rushing’ to a predator, and the personification of the red sky being ‘angry’, again suggesting violence and death contributing to the ominous atmosphere.
In Chapter 1, Dickens uses the pathetic fallacy to show characterisation, reflecting the minds of both Pip and Magwitch by creating a sinister atmosphere. Pip’s name suggests that like a seed, he is small, young and vulnerable, and will take a journey to grow into manhood. During Pip’s encounter with Magwitch, an apprehensive atmosphere helps Dickens to portray Pip as being easily intimidated and weak by emphasising Pip’s vulnerability. Magwitch is described as a ‘fearful’ man; Dickens presents Magwitch with the repulsive appearance of a stereotypical convict.
He includes details such as Magwitch having ‘broken shoes’ and not wearing a hat, only a ‘rag tied round his head’ to hint to the reader that there is something peculiar and rough about him, as he is not following the typical Victorian style of middle-class dress. An ominous tone helps Dickens to portray Magwitch as being threatening and powerful by emphasising his abusive and dominating behaviour towards Pip. However, Dickens hints that on the inside, Magwitch is not an all-bad person.
Like Pip, Magwitch is presented as a victim suffering pain. To add tension, Dickens uses long, dramatic sentences to portray Magwitch’s long, traumatic, desperate journey of running. Magwitch also throws out a long line of threats at Pip, emphasising his panic and agitation. His desperation for food is shown when he tries to go as far as to scare Pip, a young child, with another imaginary criminal. Dickens also uses the repetition of ‘limped’ and uses words such as ‘cut’, ‘torn’ and ‘shuddering’ portraying Magwitch’s suffering.
Dickens uses the ominous tone of Chapter 1 to express his outlook on the typical morals and philosophy in Victorian England and to explore themes that he later covers, such as childhood, crime, and class. Dickens portrays childhood as being a strong influence on the character’s later on in life. He uses Pip in Chapter 1 to show this. Pip had a very unhappy, tragic childhood, mourning over his family and lacking love. Dickens suggests that this guided him to his dark, dreary, and lonely imagination in the churchyard on the evening of his encounter with Magwitch.
Pip imagines ‘dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves’, and Magwitch limping as though ‘he were the pirate come to life’, going to hook himself back on the gibbet again. Pip frightens himself with his own twisted imagination, causing the reader to feel sympathy towards him. Crime, punishment and justice are important issues raised by Dickens in this novel. Dickens uses Magwitch in Chapter 1 to represent the theme of crime. Magwitch is an escaped convict, which Dickens emphasises by the description of the ‘iron’ chained to his leg. Magwitch threatens, assaults and intimidates Pip using aggressive behaviour.
He incites Pip to crime, telling him to steal and invents another imaginary criminal to scare Pip furthermore. This stresses Dickens’s disapproval of crime and criminals. In Chapter 1, Dickens also covers the major theme of class and snobbery in Victorian England, which he uses both Pip and Magwitch to represent. Dickens portrays the working-class as good people, and therefore rewards them later on in the novel. For example, Pip in Chapter 1 is a young and innocent child deprived of love and family, but is later rewarded with happiness. Dickens shows the working-class to be unfairly treated as a result of snobbery.
For instance, Magwitch in Chapter 1 has ‘iron’ chained to his leg as punishment. We later learn that Compeyson, the main villain, escaped punishment due to his higher class. Similarly, Dickens uses vivid imagery, symbols, repetition, similes and also irony to describe the eerie mood of Satis House in Chapters 8 and 11. He stresses the bleakness of the house by describing it as ‘old brick’ and ‘dismal’ with ‘many iron bars’. Dickens uses repetition of ‘barred’, ‘locked’ and ‘gate’ to stress the sense of a prison, creating an unfriendly, hostile atmosphere.
He also emphasises the isolation and emptiness of the house, repeating ‘open’ and describing it as ‘disused’ with ‘grass growing in every crevice’ and the windows being ‘rustily’ barred, stressing the lack of care. To emphasise the isolation of the house furthermore, Dickens adds the detail of the ‘two chains across the front entrance’. He also suggests isolation when he describes the high enclosing wall and uses the comparison of the cold wind within the wall to the ‘wind in the rigging of a ship at sea’.
Dickens emphasises the darkness of the passages inside the house using repetition of ‘dark’ to symbolise mystery and the unknown, and he also stresses the use of candles instead of daylight to suggest a sense of peculiarity around the place. He describes Pip’s opinion of Satis House as ‘strange’ and ‘melancholy’ to add to the tension brought to the inquisitive reader, in order for the reader to feel yet more sympathy towards Pip; and also to pity Miss Havisham and Estella for the conditions that they let themselves live in.
Dickens describes Satis House as ‘deserted’ and uses repetition of ‘no’ and ‘rank’ in portraying it as lifeless. He describes the garden as ‘miserable’, ‘neglected’ and ‘overgrown with tangled weeds’. He also uses the repetition of ‘old’ when describing the ‘wilderness’ of the garden in the ‘dismal’ corner. Similarly to Chapter 1, Dickens creates tension and prepares us for the grimness of Satis House by using Pip’s dark and dreary imagination to emphasise his fear. Dickens uses the repetition of ‘figure’ and ‘ran’, and particularly stresses the word ‘terror’ in describing Pip’s active imagination.
Dickens describes the room which Miss Havisham indicates Pip to as being ‘spacious’, having an ‘oppressive’, ‘airless smell’, and daylight being ‘completely excluded’. Irony is used to describe the fire, a symbol of hell, ‘that was more disposed to go out than to burn up’, the ‘reluctant’ cold smoke is compared to the marsh mist, and the candles in the room, which ‘faintly troubled its darkness’. Dickens stresses the coldness of the room, ironically describing not only the ‘cold’ smoke, but also the ‘wintry branches’ of candles, suggesting that even the candles aren’t giving out heat.
The irony and tension intrigues the reader as to why Satis House holds the sinister mood that it does and increases the reader’s sympathy towards Pip, as Dickens brings him to yet another place of gloom, which is significant as Pip is portrayed as not yet having seen or experienced any sign of happiness in his life. Dickens emphasises the significance of the sense of time having frozen within Satis House, using repetition of the clocks ‘having stopped at twenty minutes to nine’, to contribute to the apprehensive atmosphere. Dickens uses Pip’s opinion to portray the room as having ‘once been handsome’.
He describes everything in the room as being ‘covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces’, to stress the neglect and lack of care of the room. Dickens stresses the portrayal of the main object in the room, ‘a long table with a tablecloth spread on it’. He suggests that with the clocks all stopped, the significance of the table is that it was as though ‘a feast had been in preparation’ at the moment that time seemingly froze within Satis House. Dickens describes ‘an epergne’ of some kind centred at the middle of this cloth, which is later revealed to the reader to be a wedding cake.
Dickens symbolises this ‘yellow’ wedding cake as linked to death, evil and depression by using the simile of spiders running to and out of the cake, ‘seeming to grow, like a black fungus’. He also portrays it as ‘overhung with cobwebs’, ‘indistinguishable’ and uses the imagery of an important event occurring in the ‘spider community’, suggesting that a great many spiders have literally taken over the room from Miss Havisham. To illustrate this image furthermore, Dickens adds the detail of the spiders having blotchy ‘bodies’. He uses the word ‘bodies’, symbolising corpses, to enhance the deathly tone.
Dickens intensifies this fearful mood by then using the same tone to describe Miss Havisham. He again uses Pip’s opinion to portray Miss Havisham, using the simile of her ‘looking like the Witch of the place’, and also using the comparison of her to the ‘ghastly waxwork at the Fair’. The significance of these comparisons is that using the words ‘Witch’ and ‘ghastly’, they show Pip’s opinion of Miss Havisham’s appearance to be evil and terrifying. They also portray Miss Havisham’s appearance to be unrealistic, which perhaps implies that Pip’s again letting his dark imagination take over.
Later on in the novel, Miss Havisham describes metaphorically how the deteriorating of her state of mind and the decaying condition of Satis House ‘have worn away together’, and how mice have ‘gnawed’ at her just like they have ‘gnawed’ at the house, by which Dickens means the damage of the house symbolises the heartbreak of which Miss Havisham has suffered. Dickens uses repetition of ‘yellow and withered’ to emphasise the decaying and deteriorating state of Miss Havisham’s possessions around her. He amplifies this idea by mentioning Pip’s vision that he and Estella ‘might presently begin to decay’, being the people surrounding Miss Havisham.
This adds to the tension for the reader, again creating anxiety and sympathy for not only Pip, but also Estella. Dickens uses the ominous tone of Chapters 8 and 11 to show characterisation, reflecting the minds of Pip and Estella as well as Miss Havisham. Pip is again revealed in these Chapters to let his dark imagination take over when he sees Miss Havisham as a ‘figure’ that emerges ‘hanging by the neck’ and then suddenly disappears, suggesting that she wasn’t there in the first place. By this, his mind is again suggested to be grim, referring back to his tragic childhood in Chapter 1.
Similarly, Estella is presented as being damaged, however, as a result of being brought up by Miss Havisham, who is damaged herself, and thus damaging. Estella’s relationship with Miss Havisham is presented as disfunctional. Dickens uses the rest of the novel to convey the moral that children need to be guided by role models. He shows this idea by Pip finally reaching his ‘Great Expectations’ through hard work and having been guided by Joe, whereas, Estella had nobody except Miss Havisham to guide her.
Estella is married to a violent man as a result, and pays for the emotional crime that she had put Pip through, which Miss Havisham had forced her to. In Chapters 8 and 11, Dickens explores the main themes of money and love. Dickens names Miss Havisham’s house, ‘Satis House’, using the word ‘Satis’ meaning enough, as a symbol that Miss Havisham has more than enough money. Dickens strongly links the theme of money with love and happiness in these Chapters.
The portrayal of Satis House is that although it is grand, it holds no love or happiness, which Dickens presents by using the idea that Miss Havisham is with money, but without love; the moral being that money doesn’t guarantee happiness. Later on in the novel, Pip also represents this moral as his ‘Great Expectations’ do not gain him Estella. In contrast to the other atmospheric places, Dickens portrays Wemmick’s ‘castle’ in Chapter 25 as a peculiar, ironic, mad house using vivid, emotive imagery and irony.
He describes it as ‘a little wooden cottage’ and Pip’s opinion of the ‘castle’ as small with queer, gothic windows and a small, gothic door. The ‘castle’ is also conveyed as secluded with a drawbridge that when hoisted up, cuts off any communication. Likewise with Miss Havisham and Satis House, the significance of this is that he has isolated himself from reality and society, living in his dream ‘castle’. Dickens uses the seclusion of the ‘castle’ and the idea that Wemmick wishes neither himself nor Pip to speak of it whilst in the office to build up tension, and create anxiety for the reader.
However, inside, Wemmick’s ‘castle’ is a place of love, life and comedy. Dickens uses the imagery of Wemmick stepping into his own little dream world of rightly deserved happiness when he’s in his ‘castle’. His deserved happiness which Dickens stresses by the hard work that Wemmick puts into the castle, for example, engineering and gardening. Wemmick’s ‘castle’ is presented as though it is part of a magical fairytale by the way Dickens describes its ‘ornamental lake’ with ‘an island in the middle’.
It’s portrayed as comic, a ‘crazy little box of a cottage’, ‘the top of it was cut out and painted like a battery mounted with guns’. The life of the ‘castle’ is emphasised by the way that he describes all the animals that he keeps -‘pigs’, ‘fowls’, and ‘rabbits’. gggggggggThe pathetic fallacy is used in Chapter 25 to reflect Wemmick’s state of mind. Wemmick is portrayed through his ironic, comic ‘castle’ as being wildly imaginative. Reality seems to have been lost in the ‘castle’; however, this brings out the life of the ‘castle’, and therefore brings the reader to like Wemmick for his originality.
Wemmick’s cheerful attitude inside the ‘castle’ also stresses life of the ‘castle’. Wemmick’s father, ‘Aged’, is portrayed as ‘cheerful’ and full of life. He describes his son’s place as ‘a pretty pleasure-ground’ and ‘beautiful works’. Dickens presents Wemmick’s and Aged’s relationship as just about the only sign of happiness in the novel: just about the only functional family. The theme explored in Chapter 25 is the love between Wemmick and his father. In this Chapter, love is portrayed unlike it is in the rest of the novel: rather than bringing pain, love is seen to give happiness.
Aged is ‘proud’ of his son’s ‘fine place’ and is described himself as ‘clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for. ‘ Dickens stresses the fond bond between them both and their enthusiasm for living life in the ‘castle’, away from reality. Dickens uses settings in ‘Great Expectations’, such as the marshes and Satis House to create a dark, ominous mood. However, he then uses Wemmick’s ‘castle’, a delightfully different place to portray a cheerful atmosphere. The different tones that Dicken’s creates help prepare the reader for the novel as a whole by stressing Pip’s struggle to reach his ‘Great Expectations’.