Background.

Great Expectations

Context.

Quotation said by the character Pip, as narrator, at the beginning of Great Expectations.

Charles Dickens wrote Great Expectations in the first person, seen from Pip’s point of view of his life. The novel is a Bildungsroman, a German term for an education or self-development novel. The genre normally reflects the story of a single individual’s growth and development. In this quotation, we see Pip describing the beginning of his long process of learning who he is, and about his place in the world, based on his first encounter with the escaped convict Abel Magwitch after being startled by him in a churchyard whilst visiting the graves of his parents.

Magwitch suprises Pip in the churchyard.
The escaped convict Abel Magwitch startles a young Pip during a visit to his family grave in a Kent churchyard.

Chapter Summary.

Great Expectations Chapter 1.

Chapter 1 of Great Expectations introduces the protagonist and narrator of the story Philip Pirrip, but unable to pronounce his name I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. Pip is an orphan, who never knew his parents or any of his five brothers who died in infancy. He guesses what his parents might have looked like by the shape of the writing on the gravestones, writing my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. He lives with his sister, and her husband, Joe Gargery, a local blacksmith.

Great Expectations is written in the first person by an older Pip looking back on his childhood. Pip goes on to recall my first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, an incident when he was attacked in a churchyard as a young boy. It is a cold bleak day and Pip has visited an isolated churchyard set in an area of marshes. As he is paying respects at the graves of his parents and siblings late into the afternoon, Pip is suddenly startled by a fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg, who shouts at him to keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat! The man perches Pip on a gravestone and inverts him, disorientating the frightened boy as his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his. Pip is threatened with an unseen accomplice who will be watching him and ordered to return to a battery (fortified position) on the marshes the following morning, bringing with him some wittles (provisions) and a metal file.

  • Later in the story, we learn that Pip was aged I think in my seventh year when the incident in the churchyard occurred, that it happened on a Christmas Eve in the early part of the nineteenth century, and that the man who terrorized him was an escaped convict named Abel Magwitch.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Chapter 1 of Great Expectations:

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister,—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father’s, gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine,—who gave up trying to get a living, exceedingly early in that universal struggle,—I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dikes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!

Characters.

Abel Magwitch / Provis.

Like Pip, the convict Abel Magwitch is a character who follows a rags-to-riches story within Great Expectations. Originally incarcerated for his part in a plot to defraud Miss Havisham we first meet Magwitch after he escapes from a prison hulk and terrifies the young Pip whilst visiting the graves of his family in Kent churchyard. Magwitch is pursuing Compeyson, his accomplice in the fraud and who is treated more leniently. Pip aids Magwitch with food and tools, a gesture Magwitch will later handsomely repay. Magwitch is deported to Australia where he makes a fortune as a sheep farmer before returning, secretly, to England under the name Provis. In later life, Magwitch is revealed as a kinder man who has been helping Pip achieve his great expectations.

  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Abel Magwitch has been played by such actors as James Mason (1974 TV movie), Anthony Hopkins (1989 TV mini-series), Bernard Hill (1999 TV movie), and Ralph Fiennes (2012 film).

Philip Pirrip (Pip).

Philip Pirrip, called Pip, is the protagonist and narrator in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations. He is amongst the most popular characters in English literature. Pip narrates his story many years after the events of the novel take place, starting as a young orphan boy being raised by his sister and brother-in-law in the marshes of north Kent. The novel follows Pip’s progress from childhood innocence to adulthood, where we see a financial and social rise. But these fortunes are offset by an emotional and moral deterioration, which forces Pip to recognise his negative expectations in a new self-awareness.

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Opening lines of Great Expectations.
  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Pip has been played by such actors as Jack Pickford (1917 film), John Mills (1946 film), Michael York (1974 TV movie), and Ioan Gruffudd (1999 TV movie).

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My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things.