Charles Dickens employs a first person narrative in his novel, Great Expectations, with the protagonist, Pip, serving as the narrator. Notably, this narrative is presented in a retrospective form, with Pip reflecting on his life. The retrospective point of view plays a significant role in shaping the readers’ reactions towards the plot. Primarily, in Great Expectations, the retroactive first person perspective adds an element of unreliability to Pip’s character.
Pip’s recollection of events is being recounted many years later, which hinders his ability to recall every detail accurately. Consequently, numerous details and direct quotations have been fabricated. These fabrications, while conveying the general idea of the events, deviate from the precise truth and may have been embellished for storytelling purposes. Additionally, due to the narrative being from a child’s perspective at times, Pip’s credibility is compromised. As children often tend to exaggerate and distort the truth, in the early chapters, Pip portrays the convict as a truly inhuman creature in the churchyard.
A scared man, dressed entirely in rough grey clothing, with a large iron attached to his leg… who walked with a limp and trembled, while staring and grumbling; and whose teeth rattled in his head…(2)
What Pip saw in the escapee’s eyes may have been slightly scary, but not as much as he claims. The reader finds Pip to be an unreliable source because it is impossible to remember the precise details he provides and his tendency to exaggerate makes him less credible.
The first-person narrative in the novel makes the reader lose interest. The narrative is told from a retrospective point of view, revealing that Pip survives his hardships throughout the story. This knowledge weakens the suspense in the novel because we are aware that Pip will not be in life-threatening danger. Consequently, the reader tends to overlook details and the suspense is greatly diminished. For instance, when the convict threatens Pip’s life at the beginning, we do not feel anxious about whether or not Pip will survive because we already know he does. This aspect is one of the few weak points in Dickens’ work(s). The retrospective perspective dulls the plot and makes it less captivating overall.
In some instances, the retrospective viewpoint reveals crucial plot details prematurely. Due to Pip’s reflection on his life years later, he possesses knowledge of future events, leading to excessive foreshadowing. This can hinder the element of spontaneity in the plot. For example, Pip recounts a situation where Mrs. Joe indicated the identity of her attacker, Orlick, by drawing a hammer when she could not speak after the assault (113). This revelation significantly diminishes the mystery surrounding Mrs. Joe’s assailant as we later learn it was indeed Orlick. At times, excessive foreshadowing resulting from the chosen point of view spoils the crucial plot mysteries.
In conclusion, the retrospective first person point of view used by Charles Dickens with the main character Pip in Great Expectations makes Pip unreliable, disinterested to the reader, and potentially reveals key elements prematurely. This point of view was most likely chosen by Dickens to connect the various mysteries of the plot. As a reader, this particular perspective generated a negative view of Pip and possibly conveyed criticisms of Dickens himself. Additionally, every masterpiece has its weaknesses, including Great Expectations. While this novel may face criticism for certain aspects, it remains a valuable and captivating work.