For this essay I will be comparing “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens with “The Runaway” by Robert Frost specifically looking at the theme of fear. “Great Expectations” was written as a series in a popular magazine in 1861 and later published as a novel while “The Runaway” is a poem written in America in 1924. I will be analyzing five separate areas that both writers use to portray fear; the social and historical context of the pieces, the settings of both, the main characters and more importantly why they are frightened, the physical signs of fear shown by the characters, what scares them and the language and style that the writers use.
“Great Expectations” was written in a time when violent criminals were placed on floating prisons where they were shipped to Australia, this was abolished in 1868, 7 years after “Great Expectations” had been written. The opening chapter would have been very disquieting to the readers. The rest of the book looks human at nature and its opportunities. Dickens was often credited with capturing the thoughts of children and getting inside their minds and experiences. He often wrote about compassion for the poor and abused children which probably came from his own experiences, when he was twelve years old he was forced to work in a blackening factory for six months while his father was sent to debtors prison. Dickens was ashamed of this experience and often called it “The secret agony of my soul”.
“Great Expectations also explores the class system present in Victorian England and challenges it by suggesting that a “lowly” workers boy could rise to become a gentleman, the fact that pip later becomes a snob and turning his back on the people that brought him up as a child. Robert frost on the other hand was often critisised for ignoring the current issues of the day instead choosing to write about nature from his farming community in New England, although he was not a successful farmer he kept the farm as a retreat where he could relax and concentrate on his writing and escape the real world. All his poems are designed to be as simplistic as possible so that the majority of the public could enjoy them with most of his poems looking at nature in an almost religious way.
Both writers as a way of suggesting fear use setting. Dickens uses the setting to show that Pip is scared before anything has even happened, he does this by using words such as “raw”, “bleak” and “dark flat wilderness” to create a sense of inhospitability. The use of the metaphor,
“and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea” this suggests that the wind is a beast rushing towards Pip which would scare a small boy because they believe in monsters and beasts. It could be said that the use of “sea” in the metaphor could give an indication of the nature and direction of future encounters with the savage lair being the prison ship and the beast being Magwich. It could also be said that this is linked to the supernatural elements in both texts. We know that Pip is scared at this point because of the line, “the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip” this reinforces the belief that the environment is inhospitable and this scares Pip.
Setting is used in a similar way in “The Runaway” but is not as dramatic, the poem is set on a mountain pasture during the first snow of the year, “Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall, we stopped by a mountain pasture to say” the mountain pasture would be an isolated place to be like the graveyard and the weather is dire like in the graveyard, both texts use the fact that the environment is inhospitable to suggest fear.
The main characters are both scared by roughly the same things. Pip is a very small boy, “small bundle of shivers” and “undersized, for my years and not strong” which would mean he is unable to physically defend himself and everything would seem larger and more threatening. The colt is also only small and is very young as it has never experienced snow before,
“A little Morgan” and “He isn’t winter broken” this would make it afraid and confused. Both the characters are alone both physically and mentally. Pip is an orphan,
“Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgina wife of the above, were dead and buried.” which would make him feel alone inside and would have none with him to protect him. Similarly the colt has no mother present and he may have no mother at all,
“Where is his mother?” this would mean the colt would be unaware of what snow is and would feel very isolated and vulnerable. Both characters are physically alone, Pip is at least a mile away from home, “a mile or more away from the church” meaning it is unlikely he will be found or helped. When Dickens uses the line, “this bleak place overgrown by nettles was the churchyard” he is suggesting that the churchyard is not visited very often or maintained, this would again suggest that Pip is far away from help. The colt is alone on the pasture, “Where is his mother?” away from his mother or his owner the colt will feel isolated and scared because he does not have his mother there to reassure him.
Both characters show physical signs of fear. Pip cries even before he meets Magwich,”the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip” he is afraid of his surroundings and being a small child he starts to cry as he is unable to control his emotions. Pip later pleads for his life,
“O! Don’t cut my throat, sir,` I pleaded in terror” the use of pleaded shows us that Pip believes that Magwich will carry out his threats and shows us just how desperate and scared he is. Another physical sign of fear is, “held tighter to the tombstone on which he had put me on; partly to keep myself on it; partly to keep me from crying.”
This shows us Pip is on the verge of crying once again and that he has reached a point of total desperation and fear. The use of “I timidly explained” suggests that Pip was scared to say anything to the man in case he upset him or gave him any reason to hurt him. It could be said that it is ironic that Magwich is scared at this point when he believes the boy is not alone,
“He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder” because he is trying to make Pip believe he is capable of killing him or at least cause him harm and that he is not scared at all, because Pip does not use this time to escape could show us that he is paralyzed with fear and is unable to run or proves that he believes Magwich will be able to catch him no matter where he runs. Physical signs of fear in “The Runaway” are, when the colt is shown to be in a state of abnormally high level of alertness,
“A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,` the other curled up at his breast” this shows that the colt is ready to bolt at any moment because he is confused by what is happening and indeed does ultimately bolt,
“He dipped his head and snorted at us. And then he had to bolt” the use of the word “had” suggests that the colt is overcome by his primeval instincts that tell him to bolt as he does not know how to react normally. Also another sign of fear is when he returns, “and now here he comes again with a clatter of stone, and mounts the wall again with whited eyes and all his tail that isn’t hair up straight.”
“mounts”, “white” and “hair up straight” are all physical signs of fear but the colt must be confused because he returns to the spot where he was first frightened by the two people or it could be the place he usually finds his mother and so feels closer to her there and feels less scared, it could be said that Pip is in the graveyard even though he has probably been there before so he can feel close to his parents and this could be linked to the colt or the colt could just be returning there because it is the most sheltered place on the mountain or he is just confused and lost and so returned by mistake.
Different thing scare both characters of the texts. Pip is scared primarily of the unnamed assailant, “Hold your noise!’ cried a terrible voice, as a man started from up among the graves at the side of the church porch” the use of the word terrible suggests that Pip can tell whether the person is friendly or not and did tell instantly before even seeing the man. There is also a hint of supernatural when he appears from nowhere and this can be linked to the metaphor earlier on. There is also a supernatural element to “The Runaway” when,
“And we saw him, or we thought we saw him, dim and grey. Like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes.” this makes the colt become like a ghost to the two people who cannot discern whether or not the colt is real. Dickens uses what is known as a cumulative effect in order to build up tension and fear, “A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered inside his head as he seized me by the chin.”
This works quite successfully and shows that the man is desperate and is capable of doing anything and would not care anymore as he has nothing to lose. The fact that the man is clearly an escaped convict, “all in course grey, with a great iron on his leg” would scare Pip even more because he will have been raised to believe that all convicts are evil and dangerous men. Magwich uses disorientation to scare Pip, “turned me upside down” he does this most likely to assert his power over Pip and show him he has ultimate power over him. It could be said that when the church appears upside down, “I saw the steeple under my feet” it is a symbol of reversed morality. Disorientation is again used later when, “took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me” this time it is used to remind Pip of his power and to make sure that Pip does as he asks. Pip is later threatened but not actually harmed by Magwich when he uses psychology to scare Pip by suggesting that there is another man hidden in the bushes and can hear every word that they are saying,
“There’s a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man
I am an angel.” this is the personification of every child’s worse nightmare, i.e. being haunted by an invisible monster. It could be said that the person that is going to haunt him is really a metaphor for Pips own conscience in not helping Magwich. In “The Runaway” the colt is scared of the weather as he has never seen snow before,
“He isn’t winter broken” which can be linked to Pip never meeting a convict before and both are neither going to want to experience it again. The snow disorients the colt,
“Like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes” just like Pip is by Magwich.
Dickens` writing is often very complex using rich words and phrases while frost used simplistic words and phrases that the public would understand. Dickens sometimes uses complex metaphors in his writing, “and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea” which would not possibly be as widely recognised by the public as, “miniature thunder” or “curtain” which everyone has heard and would easily understand. When Dickens uses words such as “course grey”, “great iron” and “give it mouth!” they place it within the historical context showing when the Novel was written. Frost’s use of,
“When other creatures have gone to stall and bin” shows us that “The Runaway is also a historical piece. The syntax of “Great Expectations” is extremely complex with very long, highly punctuated sentences,
“A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered inside his head as he seized me by the chin.” while Frost uses very short lightly punctuated sentences, “He isn’t winter broken. It isn’t play with the little fellow at all.”
Which once again make it easily accessible to the public. Frost also uses American syntax, “Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall” which would obviously be easily to understand by the American public. Pip and Magwich’s dialogue vary significantly, Pip is a very polite young man and still remembers his manners even when talking to a man he believes will harm him, “Yes sir” and “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir,” while Magwich is a uncouth man who uses highly dialectal phrases, “who d’ye live with-supposin’ you’re kindly let to live, which I han’t made up my mind about” which portray him as a commoner.
Frosts use of dialect is clear in, “Sakes, It’s only the weather” and the rest of his language is simple rather like Magwich’s. Frosts use of language is more like Magwich’s than to Pip’s. The structure of “Great Expectations” is different to “The Runaway” because the novel has the time to develop characters and weave many plots can involve a lot of descriptive writing as well as following characters over a long period of time. “The Runaway” on the other hand being a poem can only represent a snapshot in time and must rely on metaphors and imagery to create a scene and there is no time to show character development.
Overall I feel both texts are successful at putting across the idea of fear and have more in common with each other than is first apparent. I have discovered that the English Novel was written as a very complex piece of writing and was possibly aimed at the highly educated gentry of England in Victorian times while entirely the contrary the American poem is very simplistic in its language and syntax in order to appeal to the masses. The two writers differ immensely in what they are trying to achieve by their writing, Dickens is trying to make people aware of the social injustices I place at the time regarding the judicial system and social class among other things. Frost meanwhile was trying to educate the masses to the beauty and complexity of nature through the simple use of poetry.