What picture of childhood do the opening chapters of Great Expectations offer, and what might be the effects on the young readers of the novel?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Having been made to fend for himself when he was young since his father was incarcerated in debtors' prison, Charles Dickens held a particular empathy for the gamin and the orphaned.  His poignant narrative of Pip, the orphan, who is the victim of "Tickler" and the harangues of Uncle Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe cannot but touch the hearts of readers, young and old alike.  For young readers of today, the narrative may seem strangely exaggerated; however, the style of Dickens is such that even their sympathies should be aroused.

While Pip shivers in the grey cemetery and looks at the graves of parents he does not know; and, while his sister is a termagant, Pip enjoys the warmth of the forge and the love of the strong, good soul, Joe Gargery.  His terrifying experience with the convict--negative as it is--also serves to demonstrate the charitable nature of Pip, who would not have the man starve.  His theft of the "wittles" for the convict is wrong, but in the context of the narrative, readers must surely perceive that Pip acts out of fear and human charity.  Besides, his guilty conscience clears the incident of any immoral tone.

Then, Pip's encounter with the eccentric Miss Havisham and the arrogant Estella, along with the quirky "pale young gentleman," are sure to entertain and intrigue young audiences. Certainly, their sympathies would extend to Pip who is ridiculed for being poor and lower class [common].

Pip's being manipulated by everyone except Joe and little Biddy, another orphan who is exploited, may well raise the ire of young readers of today who enjoy such freedoms unknown to children of the Victorian Age.  However, the poignancy of Pip's feelings and his loving relationship with Joe, and the humorous passage in which the blustery Pumblechook chokes on the tar water surely must mitigate any negative reactions that they may experience.

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