In "Great Expectations" how does Dickens sustain interest through the characters and the atmosphere in Chapter 1?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens starts off his classic novel "Great Expectations" with a great hook--he has a vicious escaped criminal threaten a poor, innocent boy into helping him to survive and escape. That in and of itself is enough to elicit the interest and continued patronage of any reader.  We are launched right into intense action--the grizzled and terrifying criminal threatens to cut Pip's throat if he doesn't help out; that is a page-turner for sure.  So, the actual plotline and action add greatly to the first chapter's interest level.

The characters in the first chapter are also very well-written.  Pip gives his brief background, and we are kept interested through his frank tone, and open way of expressing himself.  Then, the descriptions of the escaped convict are fascinating.  Dickens writes,

"A fearful man...who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head."

This great description grabs our interest right away; he is so obviously distressed and worn that we have to wonder what he has been through. Add that to his threats to Pip, and it is a fascinating character indeed.

Then, you have the setting; it is set in the marsh-land, on a foggy, cold day, in a graveyard of all places.  It's like a really great setting for a horror movie.  There is mystery, creepiness, and tombstones all around.  This makes the story quite intriguing; the fact that the action occurs in a cemetary makes it more interesting and exciting.  We wonder about ghosts, and the level of anxiety and danger is raised.

Dickens does a great job, through the opening action, the character descriptions, and the setting, and getting the attention of readers right off the bat.  I hope that helped; good luck!

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Great Expectations

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