Great Expectations


In Charles Dickens' Ironic masterpiece Great Expectations, it's not difficult to spot our protagonist. The opening of the novel labours the point that Pip has lost his parents and is living in desolate circumstances:

My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dikes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

There are signals here for anyone who has read the book How Stories Really Work: Dickens amplifies certain things about his chief character to completely glue our attention to Pip, who, while visiting the graves of his mother, father and siblings, encounters an escaped convict, Magwitch, in the village churchyard. The convict scares Pip into stealing food (and a file to grind away his shackles) from the home he shares with his abusive older sister and her kind husband Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. In this first section of the novel, Dickens works each paragraph to magnify the loss or threat of loss surrounding Pip using one mechanism after another, winding up with Pip in absolute terror of his life:

Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young under terror. No matter how unreasonable the terror, so that it be terror. I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the iron leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my all-powerful sister, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what I might have done on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.

The next day, soldiers recapture the convict while he is engaged in a fight with another escaped convict; the two are returned to the prison ships and disappear from the reader's radar for the moment, but not before leaving the lingering impression of a mystery connection between them.

Then Dickens sets to work on further mechanisms to hold our attention, a