Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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What are some examples of indirect characterization in the first two chapters of Great Expectations? Chapters 1 and 2

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Pip is a quiet, introspective kid.  He is easily eaten up by guilt, and he is compassionate about others.  These traits are reveled through direct and indirect characterization.

Direct characterization is when the narrator, in this case an older Pip, talks about himself.  Indirect characterization is when the others talk about the character or information about the character comes from his actions and what he says.

Direct Characterization

The older Pip thinks the younger one is fairly foolish.  For example, Pip comments that, “I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly” (ch 1, p. 4).  This is direct characterization.  As an adult, Pip looks back at his childhood self with a combination of humor and derision.

Pip sometimes directly describes his child-self.

I believe they were fat, though I was at that time undersized, for my years, and not strong. (ch 1, p. 5)

Pip tells us directly what he looks like, in response to Magwitch's accusation that he has fat cheeks.

Indirect characterization

Pip also describes his thoughts, feelings, and actions as a child.  For example, when the convict Magwitch frightens him, the older Pip looks back on the experience.

I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn't, and held tighter to the tombstone on which he had put me; partly, to keep myself upon it; partly, to keep myself from crying. (ch 1, p. 5)

Although Pip does not say so, he demonstrates that he was actually a very intelligent and brave child.  This is somewhat indirect characterization, because Pip is telling you about himself without directly describing himself.  He is describing his actions, and we can infer traits from them.

Pip also talks about his fear and guilt, both of which seem to overwhelm his childhood.

Conscience is a dreadful thing when it accuses man or boy; but when, in the case of a boy... it is (as I can testify) a great punishment. (ch 2, p. 11)

Pip is also relatively brave when it comes to standing up to his abusive sister.  When he hears guns on the moor and wants to find out what is going on, he persists in asking even though his sister is angry at the questions.

The older Pip is also thoughtful and compassionate to his younger self.

Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror. (ch 2, p. 12)

Thus, most of the characterization of Pip is indirect, even though he is telling the story in first person.  He describes himself and how he felt.

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Direct characterization is when the narrator tells the reader directly what a character is like, such as stating: Sarah was a shy girl. In indirection characterization, the writer shows that Sarah is a shy girl: for example, the writer might say: Sarah blushed and looked down when the teacher spoke to her.

Dickens uses a good deal of indirect characterization in the first two chapters. For example, while Magwitch the convict is terrifying to the young Pip, Dickens indirectly characterizes his weakness and vulnerability when he describes him as follows as:

still hugging himself in both arms, and picking his way with his sore feet among the great stones dropped into the marshes here and there . . .

Magwitch is cold, sore, and at the end of his resources. We don't need to be told this, for we can see it.

In chapter two, Dickens indirectly characterizes Joe as a kind man who is on Pip's side by showing him warning Pip of his sisters' wrath and advising him to protect himself:

“Well,” said Joe, glancing up at the Dutch clock, “she's been on the Ram-page, this last spell, about five minutes, Pip. She's a coming! Get behind the door, old chap, and have the jack-towel betwixt you.”

We don't need to be directly told who is the kinder of Pip's two guardians: their actions make it clear. Pip's sister, in contrast to Joe's protective instincts:

concluded by throwing me—I often served as a connubial missile—at Joe

This indirectly characterizes her as a violent woman who is willing to take out her aggression on a young boy.

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