How Does Charles Dickens Hook the Reader into Reading Great Expectations?

Table of Content

In Dickens ‘Great Expectations’, he obtains the reader’s attention and gains their interest in the first paragraph to make them want to read on. Dickens introduces the protagonist ‘Pip’ to ‘hook’ the reader and make them ask questions. The reader wants to know about the protagonist and his life. They will ask themselves questions such as ‘Where did Pip’s parents go?’ The questioning method used in ‘Great Expectations’ is also used in many other stories; this method is used to persuade the reader to read on. The writer also introduces the setting to grasp the reader, by presenting the sense of atmosphere in the narrative. Readers are inquisitive about where Pip lives and it also aids them to understand Pip’s feelings. We also see that the bleak atmosphere Dickens creates makes the reader want to learn if the rest of the story is as gloomy as the beginning.

Pip was just like the writer Dickens as a child, they were both intelligent but poverty-stricken. This is one of the many reasons the reader become interested in the protagonist. They both weren’t very familiar with their fathers and were not given a ‘decent’ education. Therefore the reader wants to ascertain ‘Great Expectations’ is a reflection of Dickens life.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

‘Great Expectations’ first paragraph starts with ‘My father’s family name…’ this makes readers curious about whom the narrator is. Also ‘My infant tongue’ implies that the protagonist is a trivial boy and makes us feel additional compassion for him when bad things occur. We learn that Pip appears to be young, uneducated and underprivileged, because he can’t pronounce his own name. My impression is the reader wants to find out if the protagonist’s life becomes better off and he lives up to ‘Great Expectations’.

The ghoulish atmosphere of a churchyard is not a common place to find a young boy. It gives the narrative a depressing point of view that gives the reader the push to read on and see if the protagonist’s life will get better or not.

I think the reader could imagine Pip to be quite imaginative. The writer has pointed this out when Pip describes his father as ‘a square, dark man, with curly black hair’; he got that from his own hair and the lettering on his father’s tombstone. The reader’s attention is now on Pip and the story because the reader can imagine Pip’s life due to his portrayals. The protagonist thinks of his mother as ‘freckled and sickly’ because he only knows that his mother died young. There is a possibility that Pip’s mother could have died child labour; this was very frequent in those days. Pip says that his brothers ‘had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trouser-pockets and never taken them out in this state of existence’, this could suggest his brothers had a very short life. ‘Five little stone lozenges’ represents Pip’s five family member’s tombstones, but this also makes his survival appear to be a phenomenon. This will interest the reader; they will want to read on to see if Pip can be strong enough to set aside his grief and head for a pleasant and enjoyable life.

‘As I never saw my father or my mother’, we empathize with Pip because he has no parents. On the other hand the protagonist has never seen his parents so he may not be as grey. It is more likely that Pip is grieving about not having compassionate parents to love and care for him.

People are not used to death and will show more empathy for Pip as they will be shocked to see that five members of the protagonist’s family have passed away. Death was more common in Victorian times, so it is likely that they weren’t bothered if someone had passed away. On the contrary if more individuals encountered death more individuals would understand the protagonist’s struggle with sorrow. Now the reader wants to read more to ensure that he doesn’t have any further inconveniences, as they feel Pip has gone through enough hardship now.

‘Great Expectations’ is written as a memoir to ‘hook’ the reader, ‘I called myself Pip’, Dickens makes the story more realistic by speaking in the first person. As the reader sees life through the protagonist’s eyes, the narrative seems more touching. This part could be prejudiced because it is written by the mature Pip as a flashback. The protagonist says ‘I drew a childish conclusion’, now talking like an intellectual grown-up and feels that he was asinine when he was young child. The reader will really like to know how Pip becomes academic and will read on to discover why he seems to look down on his illiterate childhood.

A wealthy Victorian audience are more likely to have an effective influence by the introduction because they have never lived a poverty-stricken life. The Victorians presumably wouldn’t understand how difficult life is for individuals like Pip. This could be a type of social development as progressively Victorians are realizing about the hardships underprivileged people have. Several wealthy Victorians started charitable organizations to educate and aid underprivileged individuals. The readers read on to discover more about the life of poverty in front of them.

The readers wouldn’t have as much compassion for a working adult; this is why Pip would get more compassion because he is a young innocent child. A child is easier to feel sorry for because they haven’t lived a different life from their own and can only see what they have, not what they could gain.

The setting gives the reader an idea about what the story is going to turn out to be. The readers now want to know about where he lives. We start to understand how the narrator feels and lives, getting to know him better, through the setting. The scene is set by ‘twenty miles of the sea’ in the dark and depressing Kent. The seaside is typically described as a pleasant and enjoyable location, but this gives the reader a totally new perspective on the coast side.

‘Ours was the marsh country’, the protagonist feels like an immense part of this setting; to him this is his entire life. Here Pip remembers his first ‘memorable’ event, the writer could be hinting the reader that something life changing is going to happen. We see this is very important to the protagonist and makes us want to find out what happens next. Pip has a ‘vivid’ memory of meeting the convict so the reader expects him to be another protagonist in the narrative. The convict affects Pip and we expect him to meet the convict again in the story.

‘This bleak place’ makes the scene seem quite gloomy and depressing. We get the impression that Pip’s future will be ‘bleak’. The protagonist won’t have anything to expect and will become forlorn. The reader will want to find out if his future improves but also have compassion for Pip. In addition, the setting is a ghostly ‘churchyard’, which suggests the protagonist is alone in the world. This would make the reader feel more sympathetic towards Pip.

Pathetic fallacy is used to display poverty and negligence ‘overgrown with nettles’. No one cared about Pip’s family because they were poor, and they were ignored like the churchyard. We sympathize with the protagonist as his sister didn’t care; Pip and his family have been neglected and were never thought about.

The ‘raw afternoon’ reflects the protagonist cheerless emotions; this could suggest Pip is grieving over the family and life he could have had. The death could be worse for him to deal with because Pip never got to experience a true family. The protagonist may have also never gotten over the death of so many individuals. Individuals may find Pip’s grieving process hard to comprehend, as many people grieve in different ways. We would start to wonder how the family died and if they all passed away at the same time. Readers interest would be caught on how and why did Pip survived without parents to care for him.

Pip repeats the phrase ‘dead and buried’; it reminds him that he will never see his parents and they have passed away. The reader is inevitability made to feel sorry for what the protagonist has to cope with. In addition, some of the readers may have experienced death; therefore they will understand the uncertainty that arrives with the grieving process.

The protagonist’s life is reflected by the tedious scene, for example ‘low leaden line. Pip has no thrill throughout his life and has the same dull routine day after day; this has been shown by the lack of colour. The alliteration highlights the protagonist’s dreary life which seems to be recurring. We, as contemporary readers will ponder on the reality of Pip’s life, and if he ever escapes from his dull life of poverty. There is a possibility that his life improves and becomes colourful; Dickens may have wanted to create a contrast of settings between the life Pip has now and the life he will have. In those days, it was highly unlikely for a poor individual to become rich, and the Victorians would have been outraged by this idea. After reading ‘Great Expectations’, the wealthy Victorian children would realize how fortunate they are, and this would encourage them to set up charities to help the less fortunate of people. There is also a possibility that the children would like to know if they can help the underprivileged, so they can have happy endings to.

The wealthy Victorian society would have been appalled by Dickens trying to promote this new but outrageous idea of helping the poor. Treating the poor like humans was quite shocking for the wealthy people of the 19th century, and helping the underprivileged without any benefits seemed ludicrous. Then again, this is what Dickens wanted society to do, and many people did start to help the underprivileged by opening schools and charities to help.

The Victorians believed that every individual was born into a social class and the upper class societies were very negligent towards the poor; in this day and age people would not understand why this used to happen. On the contrary, the poor are still treated badly but not in the same way as before. We are no longer judged by social status, but we are judged by on how much money we earn and material items we buy.

‘Beginning to cry, was Pip’, the protagonist feels alone and upset about the loss of his family. The pain Pip is going through is more real to us as we can visualize him weeping; because Pip is no longer keeping his feelings to himself. Also, we can picture the protagonist’s sorrow because the churchyard is the only place where he can stay close to his family; the churchyard is a lonesome place that shows he feels alone wherever he goes.

The narrative is given a different pace when Dickens changes from the description, which may grasp the reader’s attention. ‘Hold your noise!’ the protagonist and the reader are surprised when the style of the narrative is changed; the abrupt appearance of the convict also stuns the reader. ‘Tell us your name!’ dialogue is used to quicken the action and pace but the speaking grasp the reader’s attention. Dialogue is used to introduce change to the narrative after plenty of detailed description; some readers will prefer dialogue to description. Dickens may have written the description as an opening to set the atmosphere for this odd meet. In addition, dialogue is clearer and more straightforward than description. Rather than thinking about it in detail, dialogue is used to show exactly what we are supposed to distinguish ‘Pray don’t do it, sir’. The sudden pace change to the narrative would engage a middle class home.

The family could read the dialogue as a play, so everyone could join in and have a part in the narrative. The father could read the convict’s lines, ‘Keep still, you little devil’, and a child could act as if they can’t stop moving. Children would have a significant interest in this part of the narrative. Horror and action gives the children a chance to participate in the narrative, ‘I’ll cut your throat!’ Other parts may be hard for a child to understand and the role may not interest them for long; this may be why a child will prefer action in a story. The Victorian family may have been looking forward to the action and like the change from description to dialogue. The readers would like to discover what is coming next with the action so they will read on. We gain more interest in ‘Great Expectations’ when the second character is introduced particularly because he is a strange character. The convict is not a good character so we will question this by asking questions such as; why is he in prison? What bad things has he done? His crime could have been as little as stealing an item or as big as a mass murder. In the 19th century all crimes were punished in the same way so you could be hanged just for stealing.

Individuals might have grown bored of Pip and are interested in the new character. ‘A fearful man… with a great iron on his leg’, the children will wonder what this frightening man doing and why he is chained, as they do not know what a convict may be. Children enjoy it more when they get scared so they find the story more exhilarating ‘I’ll have your heart and liver out’. A younger child would believe what an adult says and also what the convict would say. A child will use their imagination to visualise the convict and how scary he really is. The reader will be curious to know if the convict will do anything and what will happen soon after. The grown-ups will feel sorry for the protagonist as he is very unfortunate; this is because not only does he have no relatives but he also has handle meeting with an intimidating convict.

‘Tilted me back so far as he could hold me’, the convict does things that would frighten any child. On the other hand, adults would find the convicts actions humorous because what he does is very odd, ‘He gave me a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the church jumped over its own weather cock’.

‘Pint out the place!’ his Kent dialect makes him sound more common and a bit rough. This also gives us the impression that he is uneducated, bad-mannered and intimidating. Pip language is much more simple and kind as he speaking regular English; this also makes the reader feel sympathy for the protagonist. Pip is shown to be quite vulnerable as he talks like an educated gentleman, ‘Pray don’t do I, sir’. The protagonist isn’t speaking in a Kent Dialect though he is from that area; this may interest the reader to know why this is. Pip may be embarrassed by his Kent dialect and presents the flashback to be a false memory, where he speaks in normal English. The reader may expect Pip to have become a posh and is engaged in the story to find out how this happened to Pip.

Additionally, a Victorian home could enjoy speaking in a different dialect, ‘Now lookee here!’ The narrative would become scarier for the children and the adults could have fun speaking in an untried accent. This could also be made out to be snobbery as individuals could make fun of the Kent accent.

‘Say lord strike you dead if you don’t!’ the convict wants to seem serious and powerful about what he is saying when he makes Pip swear an oath. To be considered a gentleman in Victorian times, if you promise to do something you must fulfil it so Victorians would expect the protagonist to do as he has promised. Then again, 21st century readers would want to know if Pip does what he said he would or if was terrified to return again. If the protagonist does return readers would want to find out if he meets the other convict and maybe Pip tells somebody about what happened. The writer may want to tell the reader that if you keep your promises you may get a reward, just the same as the convict admitting to stealing the pie in return for the protagonist keeping his promise.

‘A man with no hat’, in Victorian times not wearing a hat was shocking and bizarre; this is why the convicts appearance is so unusual. In the 19th century, even poor people wore hats to show they were praiseworthy so the convict’s appearance was definitely strange. A hat was part of everyday clothing so if you didn’t wear a hat you weren’t dress appropriately. Without a hat a man was portrayed to be undignified and weird. A Victorian family would assume that the convict is an unpredictable, crazy and violent man. Parents would be shocked to see Dickens describing such a horrendous character in a family friendly story, as they would not want their children to be around such individuals. Dickens may have presented this character to show children the dangers of the world they haven’t seen; also teach them to keep away from strangers.

Nowadays if you don’t wear a hat people won’t think of it as shocking and scary, so the convict’s appearance would not have the same affect on the people of the 21st century. The majority of people think there is nothing wrong with not wearing a hat.

Dickens uses listing to describe the convict and the alliteration highlights how upset and hurt the convict is, he also looks very scruffy, ‘soaked’, ‘stung’, ‘lamed’. This is terrifying for the children who can visualise the convict’s appearance.

These words show how badly the convict has been treated and how much pain he has been through. Adults would feel compassion towards the convict because they would wonder if he really deserved the punishment. He ‘glared and growled’ is describing the convict as if he wasn’t a human but an animal. This would create additional fear for the children but adults would see that the convict feels like an animal that is imprisoned and starved, ‘he ate the bread ravenously’. The alliteration highlights the convicts bear like behaviour and because of this he frightens the children.

We also see that the convict has to frighten the protagonist in order to last, so there is the possibility that he isn’t as scary in the next chapter. The reader will want to know if the convict gets caught so they may read on to find to find answers to their questions. Questions like ‘what did the convict do to become the convict?’ and ‘Why is he relevant to Pip’s life?’ may be asked.

The cliff-hanger at the end if the chapter makes Victorian and modern day reader want to read more to find out what happens to Pip and the convict, ‘I would come to him at the battery in the morning’. During Victorian times people would read the narrative in instalments in a magazine so it was important that Dickens captured the reader’s attention so they would read the next instalment in the next magazine. Dickens and the Victorians have a better relationship than we would because people would read and he wrote. Dickens could take into consideration other people’s views on the story. On the other hand, a modern audience sees the novel as all of Dickens thoughts and ideas and we may not understand some issues that he has covered in the novel. As a result, the 19th century audience would have been more interested in the story as they could talk to the author and understand the narrative clearly.

Modern day readers would look at ‘Great Expectations’ and think it is quite a heavy read; this could also be off putting. The Victorians would be ‘hooked’ into reading ‘Great Expectations as it was sectioned which made it more interesting to read and understand.

I think some bits of this opening interested me but overall I don’t think I was ‘hooked’ into reading ‘Great Expectations’.

I felt compassion for the protagonist as he has no family and was very helpless and emotional in the opening paragraphs. This made me want to know what happens to Pip but I could not picture how dreadful it is to lose a whole family.

In addition, I wanted to know what the convict does with his life and how the protagonist is no longer poverty-stricken.

I was dispirited from reading on as the monotonous setting gave the story a bleak outlook. It doesn’t look like Pip will ever find happiness as there is no excitement in his life. Although the protagonist’s life will improve, the depressing mood will continue for a couple more chapters.

I think the most effective section of the chapter for the 19th century would have to be when Dickens describes the convict’s appearance, as Victorians would be shocked that a man isn’t wearing a hat. This would interest them because they would want to know if the convict gets caught and if the protagonist keeps his word.

The description of the character Pip is effective with audiences of both 19th and 21st century readers because they all understand and sympathise with his feelings.

On the whole, I think Dickens ‘hooked’ the Victorian readers more than the Modern day readers, only because he wrote in instalments. Also, 19th century readers understood the appearance of the convict better than 21st century readers and could feel more compassion and sympathy towards Pip.

Cite this page

How Does Charles Dickens Hook the Reader into Reading Great Expectations?. (2017, Oct 16). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront