Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – An Analysis of Pip’s First Encounter With Estella

A stylistic analysis is primarily concerned with the function of language itself, a factor that distinguishes it from the broader field of literary criticism. In order to assess the creativity or literariness of a text, a close examination of the language the author has employed is of paramount importance.

The novel as a literary genre doesn’t easily lend narrative analysis itself to stylistic analysis. This is mostly on account of its length. Great Expectations in particular is a somewhat lengthy and complex work, a narrative that would be monumentally time consuming and impractical to scrutinize page by page. Therefore a more focused approach is required, an exploration which concentrates on a small section or extract of the narrative, as opposed to the whole book.

One of the most pivotal events of Great Expectations occurs in Chapter 8 of the first volume, where Pip visits Satis House for the first time and encounters Miss Havisham and Estella. The following analysis examines the scene where the protagonist is left to explore the grounds of the house.

Although it partially draws on his childhood experiences, Dickens’s novel isn’t an autobiography, yet the choice of discourse architecture lends its narrative a distinctly autobiographical flavour. This is apparent throughout this section, such as with the line “I got rid of my injured feelings for the time, by kicking them into the brewery wall, and twisting them out of my hair” (p.62). The above description illustrates the complex and dualistic natures of Dickens’s narrative perspective, where we see the adult Pip retrospectively regarding the behaviour of his childhood self. Yet there’s an immediacy to the description of the boy Pip’s actions, created partially through the use of the present participles “kicking” and “twisting”.

The description is also foregrounded, through both linguistic deviation and parallelism. A person’s feelings are an abstract concept, yet here they are depicted as if they were a physical entity, something which can be kicked or twisted. Also the present participles are further connected through assonance, with the repeating of the ‘i’ sound in both “kicking” and “twisting”. This clever use of language demonstrates the dualistic nature of the narrative voice, by highlighting the discrepancy between the child and adult Pip. It is the boy who directly experiences each narrative episode yet the man who is able to employ a mature and sophisticated recollection of events, evinced here through his metaphoric use of language.

Foregrounding occurs throughout the scene, both by linguistic deviation and parallelism. The second paragraph boasts an abundance of repeated grammatical structures. The syntactical configuration of the clause “there were no pigeons in the dovecot” (p.62) is precisely reiterated three times with the grammatical subject “pigeons” and object “dovecot” altered each time within the one sentence. Therefore the word “no” occurs five times in total within this paragraph, lending the scene a negative aspect. This simplistic repetition is highly effective in foregrounding the child Pip’s dejected state. Through linguistic parallelism, it is possible to view the neglected garden as a concrete reflection of Pip’s feelings at this point.