What is the point of view of Great Expectations?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What is interesting about point-of-view in the novel is that although it is told from the first person perspective, it is a mix of the impressions of the young Pip as he experiences life and of the older Pip looking back on these events. Essentially, two Pips tell this story. This occurs, for example, as Pip meets Miss Havisham for the first time. We are initially with the young Pip as he enters the room, seeing the scene through his child's eyes:

She was dressed in rich materials,—satins, and lace, and silks—all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table.

Yet then the consciousness of the adult Pip intercedes, reflecting on this first encounter with a woman who played such an important role in his life:

It was not in the first few moments that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first moments than might be supposed.

Having told us he is rearranging events, he immediately returns to the child's perspective. This shows a little boy trying to make sense of a frightening person who looks like a living corpse:

But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre and was faded and yellow. . . .  Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.

Pip (of course, actually Charles Dickens) is a master storyteller, and the story gains its depth from the back-and-forth motion between describing the experience of the young child and mediating it through the lens of the adult. What seems to be the straightforward first-person account of a naive young boy and, later, a snobbish young adult male learning to appreciate what is most important in life, reveals control and great artistry. "Pip," in fact, arranges his narrative for the greatest effect. For example, though he could have poured out early on that it is Magwitch to whom he owes his great expectations, he withholds that bit of information until the crucial moment, so that we can feel the shock he experienced. 




sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great Expectations is narrated in the first person point of view.  The narrator is Pip.  Because it is a first person narration, the reader will read Pip referring to himself as "I" and "me."  Another key detail about the narrative point of view is that the narration is in the past tense.  When Pip is telling his story, he is a grown man (likely in his fifties).  He is telling his readers about his time as a young man.  The story is basically Pip's memoirs.  Because the reader knows that Pip is telling events that have already happened, an interesting thing happens.  The reader feels suspense during many parts of the story, but the reader ultimately knows that Pip will not die at any point.  If he died, he couldn't tell the reader the story.  

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Great Expectations is told entirely in the first person and from Pip's point of view. The story is told in the past tense. Everything that is described by the narrator, Pip, has already happened. This type of narration is useful to the author because it allows him to explore feelings and impressions. Pip happens to be an observant, intelligent and sensitive youth, so his feelings and impressions are interesting and usually significant. Dickens used the same first-person narration in David Copperfield. Mark Twain used it in Huckleberry Finn, though not in Tom Sawyer.

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Great Expectations

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