How does Dickens portray internal and external conflict in the first chapter 1 of the Great Expectations?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Chapter I of Great Expectations depicts Dickens at his best with its sentimental, imaginative, severe, and realistic protrayal of one aspect of Victorian life.  In this expository chapter, the motif of ambiguity is introduced as little Pip, who has contemplated the tombstones of his deceased parents, wondering what they were like, is accosted by a mysterious figure who emerges from the mists.

Using pathetic fallacy, Dickens describes the "savage lair" of the area from which emerges "a fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg."  Thus, Pip moves from his internal conflict of fear and shivers as he gazes mournfully upon the graves of his five little brothers and father, whom he imagines was a "square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair," and his mother, whom he pictures as having been "freckled and sickly" into an external conflict with the gray convict who is "cut by flints, stung by nettles, and torn by briars."  He, too, shivers as he limps, growling and glaring at the terrified Pip. "Oh! Don't cut my throat, sir," Pip begs the man.

When the man learns that Pip lives with his sister and her husband, the blacksmith, he orders Pip to bring him a file as well as "wittles," or food, threatening to cut out Pip's heart and liver is he does not obey. Further, he terrorizes Pip by saying that there is a young man hidden with him who has a secret way of attacking a boy and at his heart and liver.  This young man will harm Pip if he does not bring the file and food; so, Pip promises to bring the vittles.  Terrified, Pip runs for home without stopping, ending the chapter with his internal conflict of fear. 


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