Explain the expression, "like monumental crusaders as to their legs".  How does Dickens use details to convey the mood at the opening?"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens uses the opening of this chapter to establish a balance between a tone of humor and a sense of threat that envelops the young Pip in this chapter. As happens throughout the novel, Dickens plays on the back and forth or slippage between how the world appears to the young Pip and to the adult Pip. This chapter's opening both reveals the genuine fear inside the young Pip that he has committed a sin and will get into serious trouble for helping an escaped convict, and the more humorous take of the adult who knows the child's fears are exaggerated.

We hear the humorous framing voice of the adult Pip as the chapter begins. There is the joke about Joe being outside, because if he is in the house, he may be swept up into Mrs. Joe's vigorous dustpan and thrown out with the trash. Humor also comes through as we witness Joe signal to Pip that Mrs. Joe is in a "cross mood" by crossing his two forefingers. The adult Pip, remembering back, recalls times when Pip and Joe, in alliance against Mrs. Joe, were always greeting each other with crossed fingers. The adult Pip, showing his education, compares that gesture to statues of crusaders. Supposedly, one could distinguish the tombs or statues of a crusader because of their crossed legs. This image both conveys the continuous use of nonverbal signals (Joe and Pip, if humorously, are simply continuing a long tradition) and the sense that they are, in a way, martyrs in bearing the "cross" of Mrs. Joe. Below the humor, too, is the menace and anxiety Mrs. Joe represents.

But amid all the exaggerated humor about Mrs. Joe's cleaning rampage, there is the reality of the young Pip's fear. He notes that "I and my conscience showed ourselves," highlighting that his conscience weighs heavily on him at this juncture. He also notes when he and Joe go to church:

Yet, what I suffered outside was nothing to what I underwent within. The terrors that had assailed me whenever Mrs. Joe had gone near the pantry, or out of the room, were only to be equalled by the remorse with which my mind dwelt on what my hands had done. [He both fears what Mrs. Joe will do to him if she finds out he has stolen food and fears the moral implications of helping a criminal.]

The image of the crusaders, though used humorously, reinforces the torments of Pip's conscience: he comes from a religious tradition which has strong convictions about right and wrong. This foreshadows the later torments Pip will experience when he discovers the identity of his benefactor.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening of Chapter 4 of "Great Expectations" finds Pip and Joe subjected to the cross temper of Mrs. Joe.  When she "goes on a rampage," as Joe terms her temper tantrums, Joe crosses his fingers to Pip to symbolize Mrs. Joe's state of mind.  They dodge flying dustpans and "Tickler," her switch.  So irate is Mrs. Joe sometimes that they cross even their legs.  This crossing of the legs is symbolic of the slain Christians in the Crusades, statues of whom had legs crossed both for balance and as symbolic of the legs of Jesus  that were so positioned at the Crucifixtion.

Thus, at the opening of this chapter, the tone is bellicose.  As the chapter proceeds, Uncle Pumblechook excoriates Pip throughout the holiday dinner.  Finally, two officers of the law arrive with a pair of handcuffs, and the terrified, guilty Pip believes they have come for him for having stolen the file and food for the convict.

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Great Expectations

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