Child Characters in Great Expectations
The first part of Dickens' novel, Great Expectations, is an account of the childhood of, Pip, the main character of the novel. In these beginning chapters Dickens paints an extremely vivid picture of childhood. The reader is able to enter Pip's mind and see the world through the eyes of a child. This is possible because Dickens understood the thoughts and feelings of children and applied this to Pip's every thought and action when he wrote the novel. Dickens had an obvious gift for creating child characters in his works. The word "pip" itself refers to a seed from a plant. Seeds need to be nurtured if they are to grow and flourish. In order to understand both Dickens' talent and his compulsion to write about children it important to realize that through the characters in his novels he took up the plight of all children. In Dickens' view of childhood, he felt that children have certain needs: guidance in a nurturing home, to be free from emotional and physical abuse, to have a good education, and to be allowed to use their imaginations. In order for children to succeed in life he felt these needs must be met. Through his portrayal of child characters in the novel, Great Expectations, Dickens' demonstrates how adults rarely, nor adequately provided for the particular needs that children have.
Dickens often wrote about children in his stories who were crippled, such as Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. However, Dickens chose to create most of his main child characters with no physical maladies. As Collins points out, these characters were impeded emotionally in some way: "Most of his child heroes and heroines are born sound in wind and limb, to whatever early graves their sufferings may bring them, but a loving home is what they most obviously lack and need" (182). Pip is one of the characters who fits that description. He is healthy enough physically but he is severely crippled emotionally. In "Parents and Children in Great Expectations," Vereen Bell explains Pip's affliction:
Like any little boy Pip would like to be loved and pampered....In the absence of parents there are plenty of people who tell Pip what to do, to bully him, in a self-satisfied, self-enhancing way, but there is no one to shield him or guide him, or give him the special kind of love that he seeks. (23)
Pip is an orphan. Orphans were another one of Dickens' favorite subjects. What could be more crippling emotionally than to come into life without the crucial support of a mother and, or that of a father?
The opening chapter of the novel shows just how alone Pip is, as he sits on the gravestones of his father, mother, and brothers in the churchyard:
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 his parish, and also Georgina wife of the...