How does Dickens use setting to establish character and situation in chapter one of "Great Expectations"?

1 Answer
Aug 29, 2016

He uses the bleakness and eeriness of the marshes and churchyard as well as the warmth of Joe Gargery's house.


Pip, the storyteller, in the opening chapter is to be found in the churchyard putting flowers on his parents' grave. Dickens sets the churchyard in the marshes possibly the Romney or Hackney Marshes, where convict prison ships are moored.

It is against this bleak and eerie backdrop that Pip meets Magwitch the escaped convict who threatens him unless he fetches food and a file for his chains.

The character of Magwitch is intimidating, yet he forms a bond with Pip which is a central development in the book.

Pip's visit to the the churchyard establlshes the fact that he is an orphan. On returning to the home of Joe Gargery the blacksmith, the warmth of both the house and the character of Joe Gargery is set in sharp contrast to the bleakness of the marshes, and the coldness of Joe's wife, who is Pip's blood aunt.

On returning to the cottage he is thrashed by his aunt with the tickler for being late for supper.

Dickens therefor shows both warmth and coldness in the opening chapter, a theme which ran through all of his books and reflected his own experiences as a child.