How does Dickens Present Pip’s Childhood in the First three Chapters of “Great Expectations”? Essay

At the time or era in which Dickens wrote “Great Expectations”, children were exploited, they were used for jobs such as chimney sweeps because they were small and could get up the chimney easily, or put to work in factories because they had small hands so they could make things. Children were usually ignored and there was lot of infant mortality. Pip lives in Kent by the marshes with his sister and a blacksmith. Pip has never seen his parents and feels very lonely; his sister has brought him up “by hand”. Pip would have been considered lucky to have escaped infant mortality, unlike his five brothers who are buried in the graveyard. Pip is asking questions most of the time about his parents or just inquiring about something unknown which his sister doesn’t like. She is very impatient and doesn’t see things from a child’s point of view. Pip’s sister doesn’t support Pip at all; on the other hand the blacksmith, Pip’s sister’s husband, is friendly towards Pip. Pip is very confused about his parents. He visits them at the graveyard and by reading or looking at the way the writing is put on the grave, he makes up his family with his imagination and creates his own identity.

Pip lives down by the marshes in Kent. In the book, it is described as a, “dark flat wilderness”. The book also mentions there are “scattered cattle feeding”. Pip spends most of his time around the churchyard, which is a very bleak and depressing place for a young boy. Pip is associated with death because of his parents’ death and his brothers. The churchyard is “intersected with dykes and mounds and gates”. The river is described as “The low leaden line”. The sea is said to be, “The distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing”. The image from Pip’s feelings about this conveys that he is frightened and lonely. Pip’s childhood experiences have made him very nervous and easily frightened. As Dickens brings in the character of the convict, threatening to cut Pip’s throat, Pip “pleaded in terror”, for his life. He is very polite to the convict Magwitch: “If you would kindly please to let me keep up-right, sir, perhaps I shouldn’t be sick, and perhaps I could attend more”. Pip lives in a time when a lot of nasty things could happen. Pip is often scared at night and imagines things. Pip is very sensitive. Dickens reveals later in the book that it could have been a result of his sister’s discipline or just his nature.

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Dickens describes Mrs.Joe as having “black hair and eyes”. She has an odd “redness of skin” and Pip imagines she washes herself “with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap”. Mrs.Joe is “tall and bony”. She always wears an apron, which is filled with “pins and needles”, which makes her feel powerful and dominant over Joe. Due to the twenty-year age gap, she doesn’t really understand Pip, the way he thinks, his constantly asking questions. If I was Mrs.Joe now, I would take a course in children’s psychology. Pip had been brought up “by hand”, which Pip takes to mean smacking a child but in fact Pip had not had the advantage of being breast fed.

“Tickler” is used to hit Pip, which is a piece of cane, with an end of wax. Dickens uses this humorously because Pip says Tickler is worn by the “collision” with his “tickled frame”. This humour adds softness to the roughness and abuse for the benefit of the reader. Mrs.Joe calls him “young monkey” because he is always naughty and is always at the graveyard. Pip says that he often serves as a “connubial missile”, by being flung into Mr.Joe. Mrs.Joe tries to make Pip feel guilty by saying that he would have “been in the graveyard a long time ago” if she hadn’t been around and saying she brought him up all by herself. Dickens exaggerates her characteristics in the bread cutting in “jamming” the loaf and “slapping” the butter onto the bread which shows she is determined and violent which is conveyed in a caricature.

Joe seems like the only friend for Pip and is portrayed as the pleasant side of Pip’s childhood. Dickens describes Joe as a “fair man” with “curls of flaxen hair”. His eyes are a “very undecided blue”. He is also described as a “mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow- a sort of Hercules in strength and also in weakness”. Joe defends Pip from “Tickler” and Mrs.Joe: “Mrs.Joe has been out a dozen times looking for you” and then, “and what’s worse, she’s got tickler with her” Then Joe tells Pip to hide: “Get behind the door old chap and have the jack-towel betwixt you”, trying to protect Pip from the cane.

Joe and Pip have a special relationship and have a special game that they play at teatime. They “compare the way” they “bite through their slices by silently holding them up.” But Pip realizes he cannot play this game with Joe tonight because he needs the bread for Magwitch the convict. When Joe sees all Pip’s bread gone he starts to worry because he thinks that Pip has swallowed the bread whole which shows that Joe cares about Pip. Pip feels he can ask Joe questions because he can’t ask Mrs.Joe because she believes that children should be seen and not heard, and because of this Pip fears Mrs.Joe because of her power and of course Tickler. Dickens conveys the harshness by saying that Pip is never allowed a candle to light his way up to bed.

Pip’s head is tingling-“from Mrs.Joe’s thimble, having played the tambourine upon it”, which made me laugh when I read it but it is also Spartan and harsh.

All of this harsh treatment of Pip makes him feel guilty, by Mrs.Joe always saying that he would be in the graveyard a long time ago if it hadn’t been for her. Mrs.Joe is always reminding him that he’s lucky to be alive and should be grateful. In Chapter Two at the end Pip is “stealing” food, or wittles, and a file to wear down the handcuffs and chains. Pip thinks he is being kind but he also feels guilty for stealing and paranoid if Mrs.Joe found out and “tickled” him. All these different emotions obviously confuse Pip, something that a small boy shouldn’t go through, Pip thinks that if he doesn’t bring the food and the file he might be killed by the convicts. Pip is very grown up about things and is very mature and is concerned about others’ feelings. He never really has a special playtime; he never actually plays any games apart from the bread game with Joe. As I mentioned earlier Pip starts to feel guilty about stealing from Mrs.Joe and Joe because he is a very truthful and honest boy because of this he fears staying out too long in case Mrs.Joe finds out. Pip is restricted from doing many things.

I thought that the first three chapters of Dickens “Great Expectations” was an excellent read. It contains all the possible emotions and draws you into the book straight away. I would love to read on as I enjoy the way Dickens uses humour in several places of the first three chapters to lighten the bleakness of Pip’s childhood.

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