What literary technique can be found in Chapter 1 of Dickens' Great Expectations?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary techniques are the optional literary device choices an author may make to advance the purpose, tone, and meaning of their work. Dickens liberally uses the technique of imagery in the opening of Chapter 1 to establish the vividness and tone, setting, characterization, and atmosphere that highlights the text of Great Expectations throughout.

Imagery calls forth in readers recognition of sights, flavors, sounds, touch, and fragrances (or just odors) through which they can understand and relate to and "see" through the mind's eye what the character(s) experience or what the narrator tells about.

In the opening of Chapter 1, Dickens has the first-person narrator Philip Pirrip, whom we loving call Pip, describe his early situation in life. Much imagery is used effectively to (1) establish Pip's situation in life as an orphan, (2) give some understanding of Pip's innocent cast of mind, (3) establish Pip's detailed narratorial style:

The shape of the letters on my father's [grave], gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair ... I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. ... the memory of five little brothers of mine,—who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle,—I am indebted for a belief ... that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, ....

The images Dickens employs in the imagery in this passage are several:

  • 1. The shape of the letters on the gravestone (visual).
  • 2. The odd relationship between the letters and the paternal occupant of the grave (visual)
  • 3. The relationship between the words and the mother's appearance, "freckled and sickly" (visual)
  • 4. The impossible image of five boys born on their backs in trousers with hands in pockets! (visual)

These are all visual images; none employ sound, smell, etc. Later Pip speaks of a "raw afternoon" which is tactile imagery that conjures up a sense of what the weather felt like. It is interesting to note that the imagery Dickens employs is actually double, or embedded, imagery: Dickens provides the readers with imagery that is processed through Pip's own inner imagery based upon his vision of his parents graves and stones, both of which Pip describes to us.

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Great Expectations

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