Dickens' View of the World Shown Through the Narration of Pip in Great Expectations
Reading the opening chapter of Great Expectations demonstrates
something of the extraordinary range and power of Dickens language.
After a brief statement about his self-naming, which in itself is
important as it instigates the whole debate about identity in the
novel, Pip goes on to entertain us with an amusing description of his
family graves, their inscriptions, and what he, as a small boy, made
of them. The older, more sophisticated narrator explores the
imaginative but essentially innocent mind of his younger self with a
wit and vocabulary that is anything but childlike.
This introduction into young Pip's growing awareness of "the identity
of things" is violently interrupted by the sound of a "terrible voice"
that demands "wittles" and a file or promises that awful retribution
will follow. Dramatic dialogue between the child and the convict
follows. Much like Pip, the reader is suddenly thrown upside down into
an elemental nightmare world of mud, stones, frogs and eels, where
being eaten alive is a real possibility and pirates come alive before
returning to hook themselves back onto their gibbets.
This tension between an urbane, educated, retrospective narrative
voice and other, more urgent forms of direct speech is a feature of
the book throughout. The dominant tone is that of Pip telling his
story, but there are a great variety of other languages, different
voices and more eccentric styles within this dominant discourse.
This is not to suggest that Pip's own voice lacks range and variety.
As we can see, he can investigate his own childish terror vividly, but
he can also recreate Pumblechook's nemesis with the tar-water to great
comic effect. Pumblechook's' "appalling spasmodic whooping-cough
dance," his "plunging and expectorating" is described from a child's
point of view but with an educated adults syntax and vocabulary. As