Great Expectations By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 1-3

Dickens establishes unique characters immediately, as well. Pip is "the small bundle of shivers." The convict's feelings as he stumbles through the graveyard, come across clearly: " . . . he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in." With the convict's use of w's in his words — (wittles instead of vittles) and the convict's eating style (similar to that of a large dog snapping up mouthfuls and watching for danger), Dickens defines the convict's social class, education level, current life situation, as well as his feelings about that. The description of Mrs. Gargery (Mrs. Joe) as having a heavy hand that she uses much on Pip and her husband, as well as Pip's description of his sister's method of buttering his bread and getting pins from her bib stuck in the bread, tell a great deal about her nature, how her marriage works, and what Pip thinks of her, too.

In these first three chapters, the reader also sees reoccurring character tags and repeating elements that further cement the characters in the readers' heads: Mrs. Joe constantly tells Pip about "being brought up by hand"; Joe refers to Pip as "old chap," and uses w's in words like "conwict"; the convict has an unusual clicking in his throat, and there is the recurring image of the iron shackle on his leg. (These repetitions were necessary because the story was published in weekly installments and readers may not have remembered the characters without such clues.)

The relationships are quickly established: Pip's sister rules the house, beats both her husband and brother, and is insecure and wants to be thought of as irreplaceable; while Pip views Joe, his brother-in-law, as a best friend, fellow-sufferer, and a larger species of child. The two males survive by having fun rituals such as comparing who has eaten more of his bread first and using silent signals to communicate with each other when Mrs. Joe rampages.

Pip's relationship with the convict is noteworthy. In spite of being terrorized, Pip also feels a fascination and bond with the man. He is attracted and repulsed at the same time. Instead of running away the moment the convict first turns to leave him in the graveyard, Pip stays and watches the man struggle away. This foreshadows the similar struggle in Chapter 39, when the convict returns to his life and Pip is both repulsed and concerned for his safety. There is a bond between these two. They are both — child and convict — at the mercy and control of others and as such, are both victims in life. Pip naturally responds to another "victim" and helps him, and this is the element to which the convict responds when he later rewards Pip for his kindness.

These chapters introduce several themes: right and wrong, good and evil, justice and guilt. Pip struggles with the wrong of stealing for a convict and the good of caring for a suffering human being. He also feels guilty for just being alive. From infancy, his sister has never let him forget he owes his existence to her; he is saturated with this guilt.

Dickens is careful to tie up his details, such as the threat of the young man who eats boys' livers. By having Pip discover the second convict and then remind the first one to leave enough food for the young man, Dickens introduces the conflict between the two convicts. The problem of the second convict is foreshadowed even before Pip finds him, when the guns go off the night before, announcing the second escape from the ships.

Humor and satire are important tools in these chapters, as well. Pip, for example, always calls his parents by the only names he knows: "Philip Pirrip, late of this parish" and "also Georgiana, wife of the above." His deceased brothers are described as "the five little stone lozenges." Even Pip's politeness to the convict, requesting to be held right-side up and expressing delight that the convict enjoys the stolen food, are funny. A bit of satire shows up when the stick used to beat Pip is referred to as the "Tickler."

Glossary

Franks and Frisians Germanic tribes united in opposition to the Geats.

Hugas a Frisian subgroup or family.

Hetware joined with the Franks against Hygelac.

Merovingian pertaining to the Franks.

Ravenswood site (in Sweden) of major battle between Geats and Swedes.

swathe to wrap with bandages.

Eofor and Wulf fought Swedes' King Ongentheow to his death. For a chronology of the Geats' feuds, see Chickering, pp. 361-62.

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