The purpose of this essay is to compare “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens and “The Runaway” by Robert Frost, with a specific focus on the theme of fear. “Great Expectations” was initially published as a magazine article in 1861 before being developed into a novel. In contrast, “The Runaway” is an American poem written in 1924. This analysis will explore five main areas where both authors portray fear: the social and historical context surrounding their works, the settings they create, the main characters and their reasons for experiencing fear, the physical expressions of fear shown by the characters, what it is that frightens them, and finally, the language and writing style employed by each author.
“Great Expectations” was written during a time when criminals were sent to floating prisons and transported to Australia, which came to an end in 1868, only seven years after the novel’s publication. Although the first chapter of the book may have unsettled readers, the rest delves into exploring human nature and its potentials. Charles Dickens possessed a talent for capturing children’s thoughts and experiences, drawing from his own background. Having endured six months of arduous work at a blackening factory at the age of twelve while his father was imprisoned for debt, Dickens frequently wrote about showing compassion towards impoverished and mistreated children. He referred to this personal ordeal as “The secret agony of my soul” and experienced profound shame because of it.
“Great Expectations” challenges the class system in Victorian England by suggesting that a boy from a lower social class could rise to become a gentleman. However, the protagonist, Pip, later becomes arrogant and abandons the people who raised him. On the other hand, Robert Frost, though criticized for neglecting contemporary issues, focused on portraying nature in his poetry, drawing inspiration from his rural community in New England. Despite not being a successful farmer, Frost maintained the farm as a retreat to concentrate on writing and escape reality. His simplistic poems aimed to resonate with the majority of readers and often depicted nature in a reverent manner.
Both writers use setting to convey fear. Dickens employs words like “raw,” “bleak,” and “dark flat wilderness” to establish a sense of inhospitability, thus revealing Pip’s fear before any actual event takes place. The use of metaphor adds to this effect.
The text suggests that the wind rushing from a distant savage lair is likened to a beast, potentially frightening Pip as he is a young boy who believes in monsters and beasts. The metaphorical use of “sea” implies the nature and direction of future encounters, with the savage lair symbolizing the prison ship and the beast representing Magwich. Additionally, this connection can be linked to the supernatural elements present in both texts. Pip’s fear is evident at this point as indicated by the line “the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip,” reinforcing the inhospitable environment and further disturbing Pip.
In “The Runaway,” setting is employed similarly but with less intensity. The poem takes place on a mountain pasture during the initial snowfall of the year. The line “Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall, we stopped by a mountain pasture to say” depicts the isolated nature of the mountain pasture, akin to the graveyard in its solitude. Additionally, both texts utilize the harsh weather to convey a sense of fear, highlighting the inhospitable environment.
Both the main characters, Pip and the colt, share similar fears. Pip, being a small boy, describes himself as a “small bundle of shivers” and feels undersized and weak. This implies that he is unable to defend himself physically, making everything appear larger and more intimidating to him. Similarly, the colt is also small and young, never having encountered snow before.
“A little Morgan” and “He isn’t winter broken” would fill it with fear and bewilderment, as both characters find themselves truly isolated – both physically and mentally. Pip, specifically, is an orphan.
“Philip Pirrip, who was also known as Pip, and Georgina, who was his wife, passed away and were laid to rest.” This left Pip feeling lonely and unprotected, just like the colt who had no mother by its side and might not have a mother at all.
Both characters in the text are physically alone and isolated. The colt is separated from his mother and owner, leading him to feel scared and vulnerable. Meanwhile, Pip is a mile away from home and has little hope of being found or helped. Dickens highlights the desolate nature of the churchyard, indicating that it is seldom visited or maintained, further emphasizing Pip’s distance from any potential support.
Both characters exhibit indications of fear. Prior to meeting Magwitch, Pip begins to cry, as he is a young child who is overwhelmed by his surroundings and unable to manage his emotions. He is described as “the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry.” Later on, Pip pleads for his life.
The use of the word “pleaded” indicates Pip’s belief that Magwich will harm him and demonstrates his extreme fear. Additionally, Pip clings tightly to the tombstone he is placed on, both to maintain his position and prevent himself from crying.
This excerpt demonstrates Pip’s heightened emotional state and his extreme desperation and fear. The phrase “I timidly explained” indicates that Pip was fearful of provoking the man and potentially being harmed. It is ironic that Magwich, despite his belief that the boy is not alone, is also experiencing fear in this moment.
“He began, took a brief sprint, then paused and glanced back” in an attempt to convince Pip that he possesses the ability to harm or even kill him. This action also serves to demonstrate his complete lack of fear, as Pip does not take advantage of this moment to escape. This could indicate that Pip is immobilized by terror and unable to flee, or it may suggest his belief that Magwich will inevitably catch him regardless of where he runs. Physical manifestations of fear in “The Runaway” include the colt exhibiting an unusually heightened state of vigilance.
The colt, a little Morgan, had one forefoot on the wall while the other was curled up at his breast. This posture indicates that the colt is prepared to run away suddenly due to confusion caused by the situation. As expected, the colt eventually does bolt.
The colt dipped his head and snorted at us, demonstrating his primal instincts. Soon after, he felt the need to bolt. The usage of the word “had” signifies his lack of knowledge on how to react in a normal manner. Additionally, his return is evident of fear as he approaches with a clatter of stone. He once again mounts the wall, with his eyes whited and his tail standing straight up, resembling hair.
The physical signs of fear include “mounts,” “white,” and “hair up straight.” However, the colt seems confused as it goes back to the spot where it was initially scared by the two individuals. Perhaps it is because this spot is where it usually finds its mother, making it feel closer to her and less frightened. Similar to Pip in the graveyard, who goes there to feel closer to his parents, this connection could be linked to the colt’s behavior. Alternatively, the colt may be returning to the spot because it provides the most shelter on the mountain or simply due to confusion and being lost.
Both characters in the texts are frightened by different things. Pip is primarily scared of an unknown attacker who suddenly appears from among the graves near the church porch. The use of the word “terrible” indicates that Pip can instinctively discern whether the person is friendly or not, even before actually seeing them. This sudden appearance from nowhere also hints at a supernatural element, which can be connected to the earlier metaphor. Similarly, in “The Runaway,” there is a supernatural aspect to the fear experienced by the characters.
“And we saw him, or we thought we saw him, dim and grey, like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes,” creates an illusionary image of the colt, rendering it ghost-like to the two individuals. In this situation, Dickens employs a cumulative effect to intensify the feeling of tension and fear. He describes a man who has endured being drenched in water, covered in mud, injured by stones and flints, stung by nettles, and scratched by briars. This man, who limps and shivers, glares and growls, and whose teeth chatter violently in his head as he grips my chin.”
The man’s actions reveal his desperation and willingness to do anything, regardless of consequences. Pip finds this particularly disturbing because he has been taught that all convicts are evil and dangerous. Magwich asserts his power over Pip by using disorienting tactics, like turning him upside down. The inverted church steeple symbolizes reversed morality. Later, Magwich physically demonstrates his authority by tilting Pip backwards. He also uses psychological manipulation to scare Pip, hinting at the presence of someone else who can hear their conversation.
“In comparison with the young man hidden with me, there is a young man …
“I am an angel.” This quote represents every child’s worst fear: being haunted by an unseen monster. It can be argued that the individual who will haunt the child is actually a symbolic representation of Pip’s own guilty conscience for not assisting Magwich. In the story “The Runaway,” the young horse is fearful of the unfamiliar weather, particularly snow, which it has never encountered before.
“He isn’t winter broken,” can be attributed to the fact that Pip had never encountered a convict before, and neither of them wanted to go through it again. The snow causes the colt to become disoriented.
“Like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes”, Pip is metaphorically portrayed as being constantly watched and pursued by Magwich.
Dickens’ writing is known for its complexity, using rich words and phrases that may not be easily understood by the general public. In contrast, Frost’s writing employs simplistic language that is readily graspable by readers. Dickens often incorporates complex metaphors in his work, such as describing the wind as “rushing from a distant savage lair” that might not be as universally recognized as Frost’s metaphors like “miniature thunder” or “curtain,” which are more widely known and easily comprehensible. Additionally, Dickens’ use of terms like “course grey,” “great iron,” and the exclamation “give it mouth!” situates his writing within a specific historical context, signifying when the novel was written. On the other hand, Frost’s writing uses…
“When other creatures have gone to stall and bin” indicates that “The Runaway” is also a historical piece. The syntax of “Great Expectations” is characterized by its intricate structure, consisting of lengthy sentences with extensive punctuation.
“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.”
The text highlights the accessibility of Frost’s work to the public, as indicated by the use of American syntax. For instance, Frost employs phrases like “Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall” which would easily be understood by an American audience. Additionally, the dialogue between Pip and Magwich showcases their contrasting manners. Despite believing that Magwich might harm him, Pip maintains his politeness and respectfully addresses Magwich with phrases like “Yes sir” and “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir.” On the other hand, Magwich, being portrayed as a commoner, uses dialectal expressions such as “who d’ye live with-supposin’ you’re kindly let to live, which I han’t made up my mind about.” Overall, these examples demonstrate the divergence in behavior between the characters.
Frost’s use of dialect can be seen in the line, “Sakes, It’s only the weather,” while the rest of his language is simple, similar to Magwich’s. Frost’s use of language is more similar to Magwich’s rather than Pip’s. The structure of “Great Expectations” differs from “The Runaway” as the novel allows for character development, multiple plotlines, and descriptive writing, spanning a long period of time. On the contrary, “The Runaway,” being a poem, can only capture a brief moment in time and relies on metaphors and imagery to create a vivid scene with no opportunity for character growth.
Overall, both texts effectively convey the concept of fear and actually have more similarities than initially apparent. The English Novel was intricately written, likely targeting the highly educated gentry in Victorian England. In contrast, the American poem is deliberately simple in its language and structure to appeal to a wide audience. Despite their differences, both authors have distinct goals in mind. Dickens seeks to raise awareness about social injustices, particularly those related to the legal system and social class. Frost, on the other hand, aims to enlighten the masses about the elegance and intricacy of nature through the use of straightforward poetry.