What overall impression does the reader get from the author's description of the countryside?
As the novel opens, Pip describes the English fens near his house. This is a wet, marshy, lowland terrain close to the sea. It is a mysterious, dark, and foreboding place. Beyond the graveyard Pip is visiting, where his parents and younger siblings are buried, the land is a "wilderness," a low, flat countryside that ends in the sea. Canals have been dug to provide waterways to the sea, so the landscape is cut by "dikes and mounds and gates." It is a stark place, windy, raw, and scary—a fit setting for Pip to encounter the frightening convict Magwitch.
This opening setting establishes a dark mood for the novel. Pip does not start out with "great expectations" in life; he starts out in a harsh environment. The fens reflect the hardness of Pip's young life with his older sister, Mrs. Joe, who tyrannizes him. It also sets the tone for the dark, creepy, fairy-tale house where Pip is later sent to meet with Miss Havisham and play with Estella.
We would have a different feeling about Pip were he to have started the novel on a bright, sunny summer day happily playing in a green field with other children. But from the start, a lonely and gloomy backdrop is part of Pip's life.
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