What narrative technique does Charles Dickens use in Great Expectations?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens uses the first person point of view in Great Expectations. This helps us to see things from Pip's perspective, to relate more easily to the events he describes. There's often a lot of emotion in these events, and this particular narrative technique is effective at conveying such emotion. One thinks of the sheer terror that Pip feels that fateful day when he first encounters Abel Magwitch in the cemetery. Then there's the sense of profound apprehension he feels when he visits Miss Havisham for the first time, and the strange, complex emotions he develops for the cruel, cold-hearted Estella.

Dickens also uses detailed, vivid descriptions to help us enter into Pip's world; the harsh, bleak landscape of the Romney marshes; the dilapidated, dust-infested grandeur of Satis House; the cold, deserted cemetery wreathed in icy mist where Pip first encounters Magwitch. All of these settings help to establish the narrative of Pip's lonely, isolated childhood.

Wordsworth famously wrote, "The child is father to the man," and we see this illustrated in the overarching narrative structure of Great Expectations. The book is divided up into three sections which cover, respectively, Pip's childhood, middle years, and later years. This tripartite linear structure allows the reader to accompany Pip on his incredible journey from boy to man; as he develops as a character, so we develop our understanding of him and his world. We can also see how his actions and behavior as an adult are conditioned by his childhood years, even when he appears to be a gentleman of quality, far removed from the smithy of his boyhood.

lit24 | Student

Dickens uses the 'first person past and present spoken' method of narration in "Great Expectations." The story is told (spoken) by the narrator Pip. Sometimes he tells us what happened in the past: "alterations have been made in that part of the Temple since that time." Ch39. Sometimes he tells us what is happening in the present, especially if the incident is very sensational, to make it very vivid and dramatic: The arrival of Magwitch in Ch 39, "As I shut it [the book] ... I was listening."

Another technique which Dickens uses is the technique of 'story within story.' The entire novel deals with the story of Pip, but at the same time diffferent characters tell their stories to Pip. In Ch.7 Joe tells Pip his story, similarly Magwitch tells his story to Pip and Herbert in Ch.42. Both these stories are narrated in a simple and straightforward manner.

However the stories of Miss Havisham and Compeyson and Molly and Estella are narrated in a more complex and roundabout manner in order to create suspense. These stories are pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle and are similar to the stories in detective fiction.

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Great Expectations

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