Great Expectations: A Close Reading: Part I

Charles Dickens shows his discerning choice of words when he says “Pip was half afraid” to enter the room. He was a little afraid (Ref: Longman English Dictionary Online), partly from being in an unfamiliar place and partly from the discomfort and embarrassment that Estella had caused; to say that he was “afraid” would not reflect Pip’s mood in the proper light. This confusion of Pip is further conveyed when Dickens says that he knocked at the door because “it was the only thing to be done”.

In giving Miss Havisham’s first introduction in a room that was “well lighted with wax candles”, but where “no glimpse of daylight was to be seen”, the author was being indicative of the wealthy spinster’s closed-minded, hypocritical and spiteful nature.

Much of the furniture in this room was of forms and uses “then quite unknown to Pip”. Because Pip was a boy with the “expectations” to become a gentleman. His life had not yet turned around. It’s an illustration that Dickens was extremely careful in the exercise of characterization.

It’s in a tone of irony that Pip refers to the “fine lady” sitting at the dressing-table. His encounter, in fact, was not with a fine lady, but a “strange” lady, the strangest he had ever seen or he should ever see; a lady with “no brightness left”, an old desiccated lady more horrifying than “waxwork” and “skeleton”.

The objects found scattered around in the room in a haphazard manner are once again a subtle indication of Miss Havisham’s complex nature. In an antithesis, Pip clarifies that “it was not in the first few moments that he saw all these things, though he saw more of them in the first moments”. These were the things that “ought to be white”, but were once-white, things that had lost their lustre, were faded and yellow. All of them are a grim pointer to Miss Havisham’s unpleasant past.

“Great Expectations” is not a horror story. In no way did Dickens intend it to be so. Yet, horror, after all, is a part of life. Dickens acknowledges this fact.

The description of Miss Havisham’s appearance and the watch and the clock that had stopped at twenty minutes to nine have such a hair-raising visual and mental effect on the reader that one can expect it in few horror stories.

And almost immediately presented is an evidence of the same author’s great sense of humour as “an enormous lie is comprehended in one word”.

Then, as Miss Havisham touches her “broken” heart, it touches the heart of the reader as well, making him empathize with the poor old lady.

It’s no ordinary skill to be able to create three completely different emotions (horror, humour and compassion) in a single, short episode.

“What will be conceded even by the most disputatious reader” is an illustration of such use of the language that requires even a language expert to take a second reading, to be sure. It’s not at all a coincidence if it reminds one of O. Henry’s writing style.

Source by Padma V L S Sattiraju