How does Dickens set the scene and atmosphere in chapter one of Great Expectations?

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Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens opens the novel in a graveyard, where Pip’s parents and siblings are buried. Through his exposition, Pip is seen to be an orphan, who stereotypically meets with good fortune.  The haunting atmosphere of the graveyard prepares the reader for the revelation of Magwitch, the convict who sets the events in Pip’s life in motion but always lies in the background as a constant threat.  The bleak setting of the marshland adds to the emptiness that is symbolic of Pip’s life and opportunities, with the prison ships off the coast as a veiled threat to his peace. These all together depict the atmosphere at the beginning of the story as a place that Pip should be naturally trying to escape from, as opposed to a warm and loving home life; this makes his desire for better things a natural goal for an orphaned child. If there is a sense of home to be found, it is going to have to be found within the relationships Pip has with Joe and Biddy, not in the setting of their house. 

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Great Expectations

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