In the novel, Great Expectations, Dickens uses good language to create an atmosphere and introduce characters to the readers. At the beginning of the first chapter we are introduced to the main character Pip. In the first paragraph we are given the first piece of information about Pip. Dickens sets up Pip’s persona by firstly explaining his name (Pip) and how he came to be called this. Dickens explains (as if Pip was talking) that Pip’s full name (Phillip Pirrip) was too long, and his ‘infant tongue’ could manage nothing more explicit than Pip!
The reference to ‘infant tongue’ suggests Pip is still of a young age, and the short simple sentence (i. e. ‘So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip’) also suggests he is a youth. He also refers to his father (‘my fathers family name’), linking to the second paragraph and the significance of his family background. In paragraph two, Dickens begins to tell us more about Pips’ background, situation and personality. The fact that Pip is a child is emphasised in this paragraph by the way he talks simply and honestly about his life. This is shown when he explains ‘My sister, Mrs Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith’.
We begin to see a small, helpless boy living in Dickens world. We begin to feel sorry for him as he describes how he ‘never saw my father of mother. ‘ This plays on the readers emotions, to make Pip seem lonely and the reader feel for him. We can tell the book was written in Dickens time (around 1812), because of the hint that Pip has never seen what his parents look like “for their days were long before the days of photographs. ” The complicated old fashioned language used by a small boy also dates the piece, i. e. “My first fancies”, and “unreasonably desired. ”
Pip describes what he regards his parents as looking like by deriving it from their tombstones. He describes his image of his father being ‘square and slow’ and his mother being ‘freckled and sickly’. His assumption is taken from the font of his parent’s names, suggesting again his innocence and young age. Again this makes us feel sorry for Pip and shows his life has obviously been hard, perhaps a hint of what is to come. Another clue to the age of the book is Pip’s description of there being ‘five little stone lozenges’ alongside his parents grave, representing his dead brothers, who passed away at an ‘exceedingly early’ age.
The fact that so many of his family died at a young age suggests the book is set at a time before hospitals and modern medicines. Pip refers to his brothers deaths as giving up their ‘universal struggle’, (universal being life). This creates an atmosphere of depression and sadness as it is unusual for a young child to think of life this way. Such a negative and pessimistic view would be unusual for a child of modern times. The overall descriptions of graves and death give the paragraph a moody and slightly scary atmosphere.