What is the Significance of Chapter one of ‘Great Expectations’ in Relation to the Novel as a Whole?


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‘Great Expectations’ is well known for being a dark atmospheric novel, set in 19th century Victorian England. Dickens opens chapter one by introducing literary devices such as personificaton, emotive imagery, and repetition to his description. Themes of crime and social status are also involved, preparing the reader for the grimness of the novel. During the course of this book, Dickens is repeatedly referring back to various points of the first chapter, stressing the mood and description he is trying to put across. Chapter one is hence the foundation of the novel.


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By doing this, Dickens has supported the reader’s idea of Pip’s intense desire to improve in status. Pip’s lack of confidence is portrayed when Pip feels he must try to excel himself in correcting his ‘labouring’ appearance. The picture painted of Pip is of someone thinking that only the outside appearance counts, and with this in consideration, we can see snobbish attitudes arising in Pip. In chapter thirty-nine, the identity of Pip’s benefactor is revealed. The convict that Pip first met in the churchyard when he was a child, Magwitch reveals himself as Pip’s benefactor.


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Miss Havisham’s state of mind and existence is well projected by the bizarreness of her surroundings, in particular the rotting wedding cake on the table on which she wishes her dead body to be placed and her relatives to feast upon her own flesh. The tainted chambers in which she resides equal these insane ideas. ‘Are you not afraid of a woman who has not seen the light of day since before you where born?’ Through Pip’s narration, the reader has an insight into Miss Havisham’s ‘lair’ which is covered in cobwebs and has boarded windows, preventing any natural light entering the chamber. This setting complements the eerie, withdrawn character of Miss Havisham. The vivid set presented by Dickens seems quite stereotypical of how the dwellings of a mentally infirm person may be, adding to the effectiveness of the description of Satis House.


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