Chapter 1 (Volume 1, Chapter 1) (Instalment 1):

I promise to get what the convict wants

Synopsis of Chapter 1 (Volume 1 Chapter 1) (Instalment 1)

Photo by Jennicatpink available through Creative CommonsPip introduces himself and the sorrow and loneliness of his life is revealed as he describes his name, and the tombstones, from which he tries vainly to conjure up a picture of his lost family. The churchyard offers no comfort to the child who gives way to tears as he looks at the graves. It provides a bleak setting for the frightening events described in this chapter.

Pip is surprised and terrified by the convict who appears so suddenly. Helpless in the face of the man's terrible threats, Pip agrees to bring him food, drink and a file to free him from his shackles. Though Pip seems to be only seven or eight years old and is struggling to make sense of a very threatening world with little knowledge to help him, his account still shows some sympathy for the convict's own suffering.

Commentary on Chapter 1 (Volume 1 Chapter 1) (Instalment 1)

Christian name: now usually called a ‘given name' or a ‘first name'. In Dickens's time most people in Britain would have been baptised in infancy and would have regarded themselves as Christian in one form or another.

So, I called myself Pip: Pip is not just a young boy in grim family circumstances; he is someone who christens or baptizes himself for the purposes of the story. Mrs. Joe does not call Pip by name. Usually she says ‘the boy'. Pip's self-baptism is a device used by Dickens to emphasize his isolation; he is not sufficiently part of a family to go by his Christian name.

My first most vivid impression of the identity of things Pip begins his long process of learning who he is and where he stands in the world.

late of this parish: a parish is an area with its own Anglican church, served by a priest who has the spiritual care of all those living within it.

At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place … was the churchyard Even this Pip has to find out for himself. His impressions of his family's graves are expressed in terms of a childish perception. Note that the churchyard is remote, a mile away from where people live in the village.

and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip Pip's account is distanced here: the older Pip, writer of this account, draws the reader's attention to the boy's isolation and unhappiness. Pip is also developing a sense of his own identity.

Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat A common term of abuse, but deriving from a genuine and terrible idea of a devil escaped from Hell. The threat is terrifying in its suddenness.

I saw the steeple under my feet … [and] … the church jumped over its own weather-cock Being held upside down turns Pip's view of reality on its head. The steeple usually points to Heaven.

And you know what wittles is? It was a habit in non-Standard English in Dickens's day, especially in London, to pronounce ‘v' as ‘w'. ‘Wittles' means ‘vittles', a common pronunciation of the word ‘victuals', or ‘food‘.

in comparison with which young man I am an Angel. Angels in Christianity are the messengers of God, wholly good beings. The capital A makes clear Dickens' intention to make the connection. Later in the novel, we find that the convict is right - compared to the young man, he is an angel of mercy.

and I would come to him at the Battery The battery was a old site where defensive guns had been mounted to guard the estuary.

Say, Lord strike you dead if you don't! A fearsome oath, containing the threat of a vengeful God. This forcing of a dreadful oath reappears later in the novel when the convict returns.

At the same time … limped towards the low church wall Pip's description suggests a man who is at the end of his tether.

Investigating Chapter 1 (Volume 1 Chapter 1) (Instalment 1)
  • Look for evidence in this chapter of the depth of Pip's terror, and of the criminal's feelings when he is not threatening and terrorising Pip
  • Look for evidence of Pip's sense of guilt, both moral and legal
  • Look for indications of Pip's pity for the convict.
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