What is the exposition of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

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ajmchugh's profile pic

ajmchugh | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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As part of the plot in a work of literature, the exposition gives readers information about characters, setting, and initial conflicts.  In the early chapters of Great Expectations, Charles Dickens introduces readers to his protagonist, Pip (who is a young child at the time), and the people who influence his life. 

From the moment we meet Pip in the graveyard, we understand that he is an extremely sensitive child who is clearly upset by being alone and in the presence of his deceased, buried parents and siblings.  Already shivering and about to cry, Pip is accosted by a convict, who demands that Pip return the following day with food and a file and that he not tell anyone of this encounter.  Traumatized, Pip returns home to his abusive sister, who is raising him "by hand," and her husband Joe. 

As Dickens is a master of character development, the exposition he provides in first few chapters of the novel (with the focus on Pip's fear of the convict and fear of his sister) establishes Pip as an overly-sensitive child who obsesses over things that are seemingly beyond his control.  This information, though it may seem to accompany the isolated incident with the convict, is essential to readers' understanding of Pip's character--and will also help readers understand Pip's reactions to his interactions with Miss Havisham, Estella, Magwitch, Herbert, Biddy, and Joe, among others.  Thus, Dickens is able to lay the groundwork for his bildungsroman--with the focus on his protagonist, Pip, from page one of the novel. 

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the plot of a narrative or drama, the exposition is the part of the work that introduces the characters, the setting, and the basic situation or problem.  Such information is typically presented at the beginning.

In Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, the characters of Pip, the convict, Joe, Mrs. Joe, Uncle Pumblechook,Biddy, Estella, and Miss Havisham are introduced as Pip is accosted in the graveyard where his mother and father lie by a large grey convict. After this, he returns home to Joe the blacksmith, and Mrs. Joe, his sister.  Soon thereafter Uncle Pumblechook attends Christmas dinner and takes Pip to Satis House where he meets Estella and Miss Havisham.  While there, Pip is ridiculed by Estella; after his visit, Pip attains a new perspective:  He becomes ashamed of being poor and "common."  To avoid ridicule, Pip lies about his visit to Miss Havisham.  Here the seeds of Pip's inner conflicts begin.  With an announcement from the dark and strange Mr. Jaggers one night, Pip learns that he has "great expectations."  This announcement establishes the "problem" that propels the narrative further.

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