Dicken’s Narrative Voice in Great Expectations

Dickens has chosen first-person narrative in Great Expectations. This presents some technical challenges. The first is establishing the credibility of a seven-year-old boy as the narrator. 

Pip is about seven at the beginning of the book. The older Pip, who is narrating the story, is presumably somewhere in his 50s. Not only does he have a far more sophisticated view of the world than the younger Pip, he also has a far more sophisticated command of the language.

In the opening chapter, it is established through the language of the narrative.

“As I never saw my father or my mother, my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair.”  

There is a sardonic and humorous detachment in the way Pip’s brothers are described:

“To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine – who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle – I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.”

This is not the perspective of a seven-year-old child but the mature narrator establishing the triangular relationship between himself, Pip and Pip’s world.

Suddenly, the man starts up from the graves and threatens to cut Pip’s throat. The scene is remarkable because it establishes the seven-year-old boy’s credibility as a narrator. First, there is the urgency of the description of the convict: 

“soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars;”

and the urgency of the dialogue 

“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”

“Oh! Don’t cut my throat, sir,” I pleaded in terror. “Pray don’t do it, sir.”

“Tell us your name!” said the man. “Quick!”

“Pip, sir.”

“Once more,” said the man, staring at me. “Give it mouth!”

“Pip. Pip, sir.”

“Show us where you live,” said the man. “Pint out the place!”

What follows is a remarkable good cop/bad cop monologue as the convict described what the young man will do to Pip and with his demands for a file and wittles, which sets up the psychological tension in the next chapter.

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