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The tone of the first chapter of Great Expectations is one that is like a trademark of the great Charles Dickens. It influenced British and American writers for perhaps a hundred years and can still be detected in some contemporary fiction. Dickens is writing about a boy's unhappy childhood and an incident in his life which was utterly terrifying, meeting an escaped convict in the marshes who threatens him with death, as in the following sentence:
You fail, or you go from my words in any particular, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out, roasted and ate.
Yet Dickens somehow manages to narrate the whole incident with his marvelous sense of humor. That tone was characteristic of him. He could describe the worst villain in terms that made him seem like a colorful specimen of humanity. That mixture of darkness and light, of tragedy and comedy, of resilient good humor under the direst circumstances was arguably the one thing that made Dickens such a great writer and the thing that so many writers tried to copy because editors wanted it. Dickens could only have developed that view of the world because of all the miseries he personally suffered in his early years.
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