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The Dickens Project - Archives > Dickens, Great Expectations, Chapters 1-5 (I-V)

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message 1: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Chapters 1-5 (I-V):

The first five chapters were quite a ride!

A few thoughts...see if you agree, disagree....

1) Much like "A Tale of Two Cities," Dickens sets up a bleak atmosphere right from the start. And much like "David Copperfield," we have the story of a young boy's journey through life, narrated by the protagonist when they are older. Those two concepts seem to "marry" in the first five chapters. Is Pip's life going to be a bleak journey through the "mists" facing dangers? One where he seems a bit lost and buffeted by circumstances outside of his control?

2) Since this is a journey, at first, Pip is an "innocent." Youth = innocence in most novels. In all these chapters, Pip is not driving the action; the action is driving Pip.

3) Dickens begins by saying that Pip is just becoming conscious of himself. What does that say about our consciousness of the world? Is it the beginning of lost innocence? Pip is immediately drawn into a world of secrets and "evil," which is the "real" world, not the world of childhood innocence.

4) Going back to the atmosphere, I could visualize the marshes with the mist, I could picture the convict,and I could feel Pip's fear.

5) It isn't all bleakness and fear, however. Dickens, as usual, has some comical characters. First and foremost is Mrs. Joe. Although, even though she plays the role of comic relief after Pip's meeting with the convict, I'm not sure if I would want to meet Mrs. Joe in person. I could visualize her as well. Tough, wiry, stern. Obviously, we can sympathize with both Joe and Pip having to live with her.

6) I found Pip's convict's transformation a bit jarring. He was so tough when he was with Pip that I felt sure that their meeting again with the soldier would be devastating for Pip. But, again, comic relief when the two convicts are arguing. I thought it was surprising that Pip's convict would give himself up so easily just to make sure that convict 2 didn't escape. Looking forward to his return (and no, no spoilers...I'm just assuming that Dickens wouldn't bring in such a character and never bring him back - it's been so long since I read Great Expectations or watched a Great Expectations movie that I couldn't give a spoiler if I tried) so we can see why he doesn't "out" Pip.

7) I was reading an article online that argued that Pip is a Faustian hero. (Faust - sold soul to the devil). Does Pip sell his soul to the devil here in the first five chapters by not telling anyone about the convict, even Joe, who he trusts? By stealing for the convict?

8) One thing I wasn't sure of the meaning of was the lines about Pip's dead siblings. He says that they were "born on their backs." Usually that means lack of confidence, but that doesn't seem to fit here.

Looking forward to our first conversation!


message 2: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments A bit general, but I wanted to share this.

I read this in Karl Wentersorf's essay titled "Mirror-Images in Great Expectations":

"Recent years have seen a reappraisal of the methods of characterization used by Dickens. The view that his heroes are for the most part types or at best melodramatic caricatures of human beings has given way to a realization that in mature works, the major characters are psychologically convincing portraits in depth, their complexity being revealed by adversity of methods."

I find that many people in college English departments today dismiss Dickens. To me, that's completely wrong. Dickens understands human nature, and as far as I'm concerned, we need to bring him back! He's relevant for today, and will be 200 years from now.


message 3: by Emma (new)

Emma (emmalaybourn) | 298 comments Lynnm wrote: "Dickens begins by saying that Pip is just becoming conscious of himself. What does that say about our consciousness of the world? Is it the beginning of lost innocence? Pip is immediately drawn into a world of secrets and "evil"...

The book certainly starts with a wham. Pip comes to full consciousness in a world of mist and tombstones and the dark flat wilderness of the marshes. His meeting with the convict is the first memorable thing to happen to him, although there are signs that the childhood preceding it wasn't too happy. The scene-setting here is masterly: ominous and baleful. Even the sky is "just a row of long red angry lines and dense black lines intermixed." The setting seems to presage the chill and mystery of what's to come.

I took Pip's assumption that his dead brothers had been "born on their backs" to mean that he envisaged them coming into the world in the same posture as they lay in their coffins, on their backs "with their hands in their trouser-pockets", having experienced no interval of life between birth and death. Another wonderfully grim image.


message 4: by Kat (new)

Kat This is my third time on GE. It's my favorite Dickens and the only one I've reread for the sheer pleasure of it. I'm one of those who tends to view the characters of Dickens as types and caricatures, but sometimes they are magnificently successful even so. I agree that he has a deep understanding of human nature.

As others have said, GE gets off to a quick start, avoiding what I think of as VIctorian excess. Everything is shown rather than told, and humor and gloom are exquisitely mixed. Looking forward to more.


message 5: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Emma - thanks for that. Makes complete sense. Yes, there was no interval between death and birth for Pip's dead siblings.

Kat - I always tell my students, show, don't tell, when you write. And that is what Dickens does here!!


message 6: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2028 comments Mod
Pip's image of his dead siblings goes along with how he tries to picture his dead parents through the writing on their tombstones.

I don't think any other Dickens has started out like this, only a few paragraphs in, we are in the middle of action with the main character. In Nickleby and Copperfield, there is more family history. In several other books there is scene-setting for most or all of a chapter describing a place. I also like the cliffhanger between chapters when it seems the police have come to arrest Pip, but they only want Joe's help at the forge.

It makes sense to me that Pip doesn't tell anyone about the convict. This is common with children who are bullied or even abused that they are made to fear worse consequences if they tell, and then once they are part of the conspiracy they feel responsible. But it also seems that Pip feels sorry for the man he calls "my convict", rather than despising him.

In spite of his helpless position, Pip has a certain amount of backbone in conspiring with Joe to avoid Mrs Joe's wrath and in his curiosity about the world.


message 7: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments I love how Dickens gets the reader to sympathize with the convict. We have no knowledge of his crime and no only that he has allowed himself to be recaptured in order to bring the other convict back into custody. We know he had not harmed Pip even after he gets food, only threatened him with a danger we quickly see is made up. We are shown that Jie does not begrudge him the stolen victuals, that Pip refers to him as "my" convict, that he goes to the effort of shielding the boy from reproach. But my favorite is the click in the throat whenever he feels a strong sentiment. That, right there, is such a telling characteristic for me. Such a commonly human touch that helps the reader identify with his humanity.


message 8: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Thank goodness I have read this before. I always have such a struggle staying on schedule once the action of a novel kicks in and Dickens drops us right into it. Which (as has been said) seems a departure from his usual tone/stage setting beginnings. Yet the tone and stage are quite vividly set even as the action unfolds.


message 9: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Robin wrote: "Pip's image of his dead siblings goes along with how he tries to picture his dead parents through the writing on their tombstones.

I don't think any other Dickens has started out like this, only ..."


I thought it made sense as well that Pip doesn't tell anyone about his meeting with the convict. It is very much in keeping with what a child would do in that situation.

So, we'll have to keep watching for Pip as a Faustian hero in another part of the book.


message 10: by Lynnm (last edited Aug 18, 2015 08:26AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Renee wrote: "I love how Dickens gets the reader to sympathize with the convict. We have no knowledge of his crime and no only that he has allowed himself to be recaptured in order to bring the other convict bac..."

Renee, thanks for pointing that out: I didn't catch that the convict made the clicking noise when he feels a strong sentiment. I'll have to go back and reread those passages.

You also wrote that Pip has backbone. I agree. Not only in relation to Mrs. Joe, but the entire episode with the convict. He was frightened, but up until the point when the soldiers come in, he keeps his wits and keeps his mouth shut.


message 11: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2028 comments Mod
Pip is quite independent and spends a lot of time alone. The only friend we know about is Joe, who is almost an equal, or a big brother figure, rather than a father figure. My impression is that there aren't many neighbors nearby, though there must be customers of the forge.

I was reminded of the Wolf Hall series, where Thomas Cromwell was the son of a blacksmith, and although he rose very high above that, he remembered and used certain things he learned at the forge.


message 12: by Kat (new)

Kat It's interesting to me that Dickens renders what we would call child (and spousal) abuse in such a comic way. I'm curious about how people feel toward Mrs. Joe--in spite of the way she treats Joe and Pip, Dickens doesn't paint her as a villain. I think there's a suggestion that she's within the small circle of Pip's loved ones.


message 13: by Kat (new)

Kat By the way, I read today that Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Purity, which will be out Sept. 1, is an homage to Great Expectations. His main character is a young woman whose nickname is Pip.


message 14: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 560 comments For me, the way Dickens handles the child abuse—and the other aspects of Pip’s experience—is very clever in the way it erases the distance between Pip and the reader. We are pitched straight into his view of the world, instead of being invited to look down on it as childish.


message 15: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1775 comments Mod
I've always been rather struck by the number of working class married couples in Dickens' novels in which there is clear and persistent physical violence and threats of more violence, often for things over which the victim had no control. It always makes me uncomfortable that it appears to be written as comic relief-do you think Dickens was also criticizing this behaviour, or that he just accepted it as a reality of life in the lower classes (and did he ever suggest it in any higher class families?)?


message 16: by Lynnm (last edited Aug 19, 2015 01:58PM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Frances - I agree - it is hard to think of her as comic relief given her treatment of Pip. But it's difficult to judge novels written in previous eras with 21st century eyes.

While I'm obviously not condoning violence - especially violence against a child - Pip seems more cared for than many children of his day. His sister didn't have to take him in, but she did. She feeds him well, provides him with roof over his head. And he's got the opportunity to be apprenticed to a blacksmith, to learn a trade.

Dickens knows how badly many children are treated in the 1800s, especially children who have lost their parents. Mrs. Joe isn't winning any prizes for her treatment of Pip (and Joe!), but she's not the worse. And doesn't that say a lot about the horrid way many children were treated in the past?


message 17: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments I've had more difficulty dealing with other Dickensian relationships that included an element of violence. Bill and Nancy. Jerry and Mrs. Cruncher. Jeremiah Flintwinch and Affery. (Honestly I could go on there is at least one in each of the novels.) I think that the fact that both Pip and Joe are in it together (with Joe being a strapping blacksmith) makes it seem less horrible somehow. I can easily see Mrs. Joe smacking one or both on the back of the head or pulling their ears. Perhaps we also see that neither male seems the worse for this element in the relationship, just very wary. And also bonded in their desire to avoid making her unhappy.


message 18: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Bill and Nancy were upsetting. They weren't the typical Dickens exaggerations. Very real life - the woman who stays with the very bad man, but he does something so bad that she finally can't stand for it anymore, and then she is the one who ends up hurt.

Jerry and Mrs. Cruncher was also bad, but fortunately, we didn't see much of them together.

As for Flintwinch and Affery, I wanted to punch him in the nose. But Affery's reaction was a bit amusing - putting her apron over her head. So it took the sting out of it a bit.


message 19: by Frances, Moderator (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1775 comments Mod
I agree, I didn't feel it as much in GE but in the examples cited and also Quilp and his wife inTOCS.


message 20: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2028 comments Mod
Renee wrote: "I love how Dickens gets the reader to sympathize with the convict. We have no knowledge of his crime and no only that he has allowed himself to be recaptured in order to bring the other convict bac..."

I noticed that not only does Pip have sympathy for the convict, but Joe does as well. He says the convict needed the pie more than he did, and that he is a "poor miserable fellow creetur" or something like that.


message 21: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments I did a few Google searches (links to the results below). In an undergraduate class on gothic literature, we did an analysis of various book covers for the book that we were reading, and it was interesting to see the different visual interpretations of the book. Ditto for the illustrations.

Do any of the book covers or illustrations stand out to you?

Great Expectations Original Illustrations:

https://www.google.com/search?q=histo...

Great Expectations Original Book Covers:

https://www.google.com/search?q=histo...

Great Expectations Original Manuscript:

https://www.google.com/search?q=histo...


message 22: by Richard (new)

Richard | 0 comments ...well, a chance of finding a pin in your slice of bread! Now there's a household in need of a breadboard


message 23: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Wow. It really is interesting to see how many different types of cover there have been. Some are just inexplicable.


message 24: by Robin P, Moderator (new)

Robin P | 2028 comments Mod
The naked lady must be from a recent remake. The covers with the convict attacking Pip make it seem like a violent thriller, unlike the covers with people in fancy dress. Some publishers use artworks for their covers but there is still the question of which ones they choose. You can often tell what decade a cover is from by the typeface and style, even when the original book is a century older.


message 25: by Linda2 (last edited Aug 23, 2015 12:22PM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Lynnm wrote: "I did a few Google searches (links to the results below). In an undergraduate class on gothic literature, we did an analysis of various book covers for the book that we were reading, and it was in..."

The original illustrations are wonderful. A few are stills from the original 1946 version, and several are movie tie-ins for the last two TV versions. I think I've seen 4 versions. In the most recent, Helena Bonham-Carter did Miss Havisham, quite a challenging role.

Then there's the modernization that Robin cited with a half-naked Gwyneth Paltrow on a poster ... :-(

All the versions:
http://www.imdb.com/find?ref_=nv_sr_f...


message 26: by Linda2 (last edited Aug 23, 2015 12:59PM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments I don't see Mrs. Joe as comical, just abusive.


message 27: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments The Gwyneth Paltrow cover was "unique."

The one that stood out to me was a bit like it, but used a work of art...on my browser it is on the 4th line of covers where the woman is almost on top of the man with her dress hitched halfway up. Also seems a bit risque for a Dickens novel. :-)


message 28: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Rochelle wrote: "I don't see Mrs. Joe as comical, just abusive."

I think that after the scene in the churchyard with the convict, it gives a sense of relief to the narrative. Even though Pip's sister is unloving, it is still home (a place of sanctuary), Pip has Joe as an ally here (unlike with the convict), and the dangers are of a known quality (again, unlike with the convict). And she isn't the comic relief, but their reactions to her are a bit comical.

Just my take on it...


message 29: by Frances, Moderator (last edited Aug 24, 2015 04:38AM) (new)

Frances (francesab) | 1775 comments Mod
Lynnm (message 27)-That one is titled "Great Sexpectations" if you look closely...


message 30: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Frances wrote: "Lynnm (message 27)-That one is titled "Great Sexpectations" if you look closely..."

I completely missed that! The problems with using Google....


message 31: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Whahaha! Pip gets another kind of education!


message 32: by Linda2 (last edited Aug 24, 2015 08:01AM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Lynnm wrote: "Frances wrote: "Lynnm (message 27)-That one is titled "Great Sexpectations" if you look closely..."

I completely missed that! The problems with using Google...."


Google has rules. Did you try it this way
+(great expectations) +(cover art)


A site just for cover art:
http://greatexpectationsnovel.weebly....


message 33: by Linda2 (last edited Aug 24, 2015 08:10AM) (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments And just illustrations:

http://charlesdickenspage.com/illustr...

I love the old etchings. Unfortunately the cheap paperback copies (mine is from 1968 for 60 cents) don't have any. Maybe it's time for a new copy

Back to observations: the majority of covers are for the churchyard scenes or Miss Havisham. Of course.


message 34: by Lynnm (last edited Aug 24, 2015 08:15AM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Rochelle, I put in Great Expectations original book covers as the keywords, and that is what I got on Google.


message 35: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 937 comments A few comments from my side even if I am a little late:

- as you have already mentioned the novel starts directly with a flowing plot unlike other novels which have more of scenery being built up first. We do not get detailed descriptions/ paintings of the surroundings.

- it is interesting how Pip derives the characters of his parents from the tombstones - his father being stout and his mother sickly (her name is Georgiana like Dickens's sister-in-law and could "being sickly" stand a little for his wife Catherine? I know this is a long shot, just something that came into my mind when reading this)

- isn't the term "being brought up by hand" mostly used with animals? Does this mean that Pip is regarded by Mrs Joe as such like a puppy or kitten which has lost its mother

- I was amazed about the topic of abuse in the family coming from the woman. What made Dickens to bring up this topic? He might have felt this way with regards to his wife, even though I do not believe that she was abusive.

- besides describing/ imagining his biological parents, Pip also depicts his substitute parents:
Joe is the good-hearted, strong, Hercules who is described being of a bright color
Mrs. Joe is the violent, tempered person, described with a dark complexion and an apron full of pins and needles, maybe representing pain. She sees herself as Pip's savior and reproaches him for not having died. I assume she has these feelings because her youth was somehow taken from her due to this responsibility and maybe she even had to marry in order to survive instead of being able to find someone she really cares about. It must have been hard for her to take care of an infant while being more or less a child herself.

- the narration reminds me a lot of David Copperfield as has already been mentioned I think

- I liked the comparison of Pip's load upon his leg and the chained legs of the convict.

- there are quite some comical scenes in these first chapters like Pip and his bad conscience, Joe adding gravy onto Pip's plate, Pup's being tilted and not being tilted

- I was surprised about the analogies Pip is using in chapter 4 which I would not expect from a boy in his situation as he talks about a bull in a Spanish arena and the ghost in Hamlet and Richard III. As he is describing his life like a biography at a later point he must have received some education at a later point in his life as I assume he would not know about these otherwise.

- the marshes get almost personified by anguish and being rheumatic.


message 36: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Lovely comments, Heidi. Especially the last two. I hadn't noticed either really.


message 37: by Zulfiya (new)

Zulfiya (ztrotter) | 1596 comments Rochelle wrote: "I don't see Mrs. Joe as comical, just abusive."

It is not the character who is comical, here I tend to agree with Rochelle, but the author's modality or attitude. He does seem to portray dark humor through actions and wording.

It is also interesting how Pip calls his sister Mrs. Joe. The age difference does not help, either. This is the starting point of dark humor; Philip does not feel anything towards her; meanwhile she is a sister cum mother for him, but her abusive personality encompasses everyone in her family. Her husband is a spineless pushover, but that is what makes him closer to Pip.

Nearly everyone already commented on the Gothic setting of the novel; it is very similar to Wuthering Heights - the same sinister and eerie atmosphere, and the other reality behind the veil of fog and mist - cruelty, imprisonment, survival of the fittest.


Have you noticed how 'comforting' (for the lack of the better word) the first person narratives written by Dickens. There are fewer characters in the early chapters of the novel and the world Pip lives in has more order and routine than any other novels with the third-person narrator.

P.S. Thank you, Lynnm, for an inspiring and discussion conducive opening post. It really helped to jump-start a good discussion here.


message 38: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Hedi wrote: "I was amazed about the topic of abuse in the family coming from the woman. What made Dickens to bring up this topic? He might have felt this way with regards to his wife, even though I do not believe that she was abusive.
..."


No, Dickens himself was sent to a boot-blacking factory as a child after his father went to debtors' prison. Like Pip, he dreamed of getting an education and becoming a "gentleman," but of the 8 children, only his sister went to college.


message 39: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Maybe the comfort in these first person narratives comes because they are generally told from the position of having gone through the events. We have some reassurance that the main character/narrator will survive long enough and with enough mental acuity to write their own story.


message 40: by Lynnm (last edited Aug 30, 2015 02:29PM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Rochelle - thanks for those comments. In preparing the notes for the next 5 chapters, that will come in handy!


message 41: by Linda2 (new)

Linda2 | 3739 comments Renee wrote: "Maybe the comfort in these first person narratives comes because they are generally told from the position of having gone through the events. We have some reassurance that the main character/narrat..."

I've read some ghost stories in which the narrator is writing in a journal, and is killed in the very last sentence, but the journal is there for us to read. ;-)


message 42: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 747 comments Heheh. That's so mean! But it doesn't effect the comfort factor, since you don't know they're dead until the ending. That has to be part of what makes the end a shocker.


message 43: by Hedi (new)

Hedi | 937 comments Rochelle, I am not sure what you meant with your feedback to my comment. I was just amazed about the abusive topic. Dickens was not happy in his marriage and might have felt trapped in a way.
I do know Dickens's history and the hardships of his youth, but when did he get in contact with abusive women? Which message did he want to send with this topic? Maybe none at all and I am just interpreting too much.


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