What is surprising about the narrative point-of-view Dickens has adopted?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unlike other first person narrators that Dickens has employed in his works such as David Copperfield, the narrator of Great Expectations is an adult who relates the narrative in his own voice, but he tells the story from his memory rather than as it happens.  Unique to this novel, also, is the narrator's memory is very selective, recalling copious details of a young boy's fear and unhappiness, but there is also the omission of other details such as those of the beatings that Pip receives from Mrs. Joe.  Added to the selectivity of remembrances, the narrator also makes evaluations of incidents in his life.  For instance, after Pip talks with Joe one night, having shown him his lessons from Biddy, Pip remarks,

I had a new sensation of feeling conscious that I was looking up to Joe in my heart.

And, after Pip returns from Miss Havisham in Chapter IX, Pip assesses the events of that day: 

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

And, later in Chapter XIV, Pip reflects upon how his visits to Miss Havisham have changed his attitude about himself and his home,

IT IS A most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, I can testify.

There is much of the adult in Pip's first person narrator.  For example, the satirical portrayals of Uncle Pumblechook and Sarah Pocket with their pompous and sycophantic attitude toward the upperclass are open for satire as Pip describes how he acts at Christmas dinner, as well as his behavior at the home of the Gargerys. Comic relief, too, is provided by this mature narrator as Pip often spends time at the Wemmick's home complete with cannon. Along with the comedic, the evaluation of various situations provides the reader with a great insight into the man Pip as well as the other characters, an insight that a younger Pip could not realistically provide.  Indeed, it is a reflective narrator as well as one with a sense of comic relief that relates the story of a young boy who matures in the course of the narrative of Great Expectations.

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Great Expectations

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