(Chapters 1 – 6)
It is just before Christmas and Pip, a seven-year-old orphan, visits the
graves of his parents in the local churchyard.
He lives in Kent at the estuary of the River Thames, which is a bleak, flat, marshy landscape. He lives with his sister who is twenty years his senior, Georgiana and her husband Joe Gargery, the village blacksmith.
Suddenly, a convict in leg irons confronts him. He has escaped from
the nearby prison ships called ‘hulks’. He turns Pip upside down and shakes him to see what the contents of his pockets hold, and finding nothing, he threatens Pip into bringing him food. Failure to do
this will cause the convict to hunt Pip down and eat his heart and liver. Pip agrees to help him and stumbles away towards his home.
Pip returns home to find Joe agitated because of the length of time he has
been away, saying that Mrs. Joe will hit him on his backside with the ‘Tickler’, a wax-tipped cane.
Mrs. Joe is always reminding Pip that she has ‘brought him up by
hand’. Pip notices that she is quick to use her hand, both on him and Joe. During supper Pip manages to smuggle some bread into his pants for the convict.
In bed, Pip hears the guns from the prison ship announcing that another
convict has escaped.
He spends a restless night unable to fall asleep, and he rises early in the morning and steals some food and a file as requested by the convict. On his way to the churchyard, Pip runs into a second convict, but manages to escape him and eventually finds his convict. He watches the man devour the food and asks whether he will leave any for the other escaped convict. Realizing that he is not alone on the marshes, the convict stops eating and starts to file at his leg iron.
Pip is haunted by the fear that the food he has stolen will be missed.
Mrs. Joe is busy preparing for Christmas dinner and she sends Pip and Joe to
church to get out of her way.
After church, the guests arrive for dinner who include Mr. Wopsle, the
church clerk, Mr. And Mrs. Hubble, the wheelwright and his wife, and Mr. Pumblechook, Joe’s pompous uncle, a successful seed-merchant in the nearby town.
Pip is treated badly at the dinner, being squeezed between two large adults and receiving only scraps of food that no-one else wants. He is in constant fear that the missing food will be discovered and he will have to face the wrath of Mrs. Joe. One of the items that he took was a savory pie, and when he is told to fetch it from the pantry, the tension finally breaks and he makes a run for the door, only to collide with a sergeant holding a pair of handcuffs.
The sergeant and his men are tracking missing convicts and they need Joe to
repair the handcuffs immediately.
Joe asks if he and Pip can accompany the sergeant in the search for the
convicts. The search continues and the two convicts are found fighting each other in a muddy ditch.
Strangely, Pip’s convict Magwitch, has risked recapture in order to bring
the other convict in. Magwitch sees Pip and advises the guard that he had stolen some food from the blacksmith’s house together with a file.
This confession saves Pip from any suspicion surrounding the missing food.
Later, back at the house, the guests and Mrs. Joe wonder how the convict got
into the house.
This story is being told by Pip in the first person, when he is older, and
it starts by giving details of his early childhood. The choice by Dickens of a retrospective first person narrator, gives the reader the immediate effect of being part of an intimate and personal conversation.
The action starts straight away with the scene in the churchyard, which is
full of atmosphere and tension.
This story was written in serial form in a publication and to enable the
first readers of this tale to identify easily with the characters, Dickens gives each an individual tag which sometimes will serve the character throughout the tale or will give a particular description of a
character at a specific part of the story. For example, Pip is described as ‘the small bundle of shivers’.
Mrs. Gargery, or Mrs. Joe, is described as ‘having a heavy hand’. The convict’s dialogue is identified with the substitution of ‘w’ for ‘v’ in certain words, such as ‘wittles’ for ‘vittles’. For Joe, whenever he refers to Pip, it is ‘old chap’ and he uses ‘w’s’ in words like ‘conwict’ instead of ‘convict’.
The relationships in Pip’s house are made clear right at the start.
Pip’s sister rules the house with an iron hand, which she uses to beat both her husband and brother.
This is due to her own insecurity and she wants Pip and Joe to be in no doubt that they pair of them could not do without her. Pip views Joe as a fellow-sufferer and regards him more as a best friend than a stepfather.
Although Pip is terrorized by the convict, he has a strange fascination for
They are both at the mercy and control of others and are victims of life. Pip’s good nature comes to the fore in his willingness to help the unfortunate convict. Pip struggles with the dishonesty of stealing food for the convict with the good of caring for another suffering human being.
His sister has never let him forget that he owes his existence to her and
must be eternally grateful to her for the sacrifices she has made.
Dickens is careful to have all the loose ends tied up at this stage in the
story and makes it clear to the reader that the two convicts are enemies.
Dickens shows that the dinner guests are hypocrites.
They continually hurl verbal abuse about Pip and the young generation saying that they behave like pigs, whilst they sit and stuff their faces full of food and just give scraps for Pip to eat.
Sarcasm is used in Dickens’ description of the characters.
For example, Uncle Pumblechook is described as a large, hard breathing, middle-aged, slow man with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked, and had at that moment come to.
The reader feels real sympathy for Pip and can appreciate the pressure he is
under. Pip’s clutching of the table leg in terror every time he thinks the missing food will be discovered, helps emphasize his predicament.
Joe’s warm-hearted character is emphasized in these chapters. His
reaction in hearing that the convict stole his food is ‘God knows you’re welcome to it. We wouldn’t have you starved, poor miserable fellow creatur’.
The reader may be surprised that Joe is content to be dominated by his wife
Pip loves Joe very much and he is the only good thing in Pip’s life at this
age. Joe is the only gentle adult around him and he does not wish to upset him by saying that he stole the food and the file, so he keeps this secret and suffers with this burden of guilt.
Pip, the older narrator, judges himself harshly by saying that he was a
There is also a hint that there may be a return of Magwitch into the story,
but what form this will take is not known.
However, Magwitch makes the effort of advising the sergeant that it was he who stole the food from Joe’s house. Magwitch respects Pip’s silence and the reader must appreciate that the stealing of food was a major offence in these times.