Techniques - Great Expectations: #
Dickens adopts a picaresque mode to make the novel more acceptable to the general population.
Narrative perspective: #
The mastery of the “I” narrative is sustained in one key though there is a progression in Pip’s consciousness as he grows older. The other perspectives are the author’s minimalistic intrusions and Pip’s older and wiser reflections.
The use of the first person narrative gives the novel an authenticity and realism which is reinforced by the dialogue and the descriptions of the characters. Pip is young and impressionable and while we can trust his observations and recounts, we may not always agree with his evaluations and conclusions.
One of Pip’s first experiences is being turned upside down by Madgwitch. This is often cited as a symbol for how we perceive the world. If we turned society upside down, the upper classes are the most denigrated while the lower classes should be lauded. So Bentley Drummel is contemptible, while Joe is a real “nature’s” gentleman. Note how the church is seen from this upturned view which may be Dickens’s perception of its failure to address the real concerns of this world.
We are often given Pip’s point of view as he gazes off into the distance
- the horizon. Sometime it is merely the marshes which appear desolate and empty; sometimes a ship going out to sea; a positive hopeful vision of the possibilities of life. While there is a lot of despair throughout the novel, there is a lot of cause for the celebration of all individuals - even those who began life with very little - they often surpass those who are born with wealth and rank.
Pip’s narration is varied and developmental. Initially it is the view and vocabulary of a young child with immature observations and limited perspective, however, as he grows up, he becomes more discerning, reflective and judgemental. This is demonstrated in his vocabulary and his increased awareness of the hypocrisies of society.
Irony: Is the mood ironic? – it appears light-hearted and comic, overlying a pathetic and tragic reality. Tragic-comedy?
Many critics see the plot as mythology or at best an inverted fairy tale version of Cinderella, where the ugly sisters, Joe and Magwitch are in the right, the fairy godmother, Miss Havisham, is a witch after all, and the princess, Estella is a cold heartless fake.
Style and Language:
Most of Dickens novels were written in serialised form and published in magazine format. This episodic approach gave rise to a series of climaxes to entice readers to buy the next edition.
“The serialised novel, which peaked in the Victorian era, made literature accessible. Charles Dickens was probably the most renowned writer to shape his skills to the demand for episodic writing. Chapters of his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, had people jostling at the wharves in New York for copies of the journal in which it featured.”¹
¹Emma Young SMH May 18 2009.
The serial format causes recurring rises of climaxes at the end of each series.