Opening chapters in novels are important because they introduce the characters and set the scene. The beginning chapters can also establish the time of the novel and the language. They must intrigue the reader and make them want to read on. The first impressions we get of the landscape in chapter 1 are miserable and leaden. “The bleak place overgrown with nettle was the church-yard”. The use of the words “bleak”, “overgrown” and “church-yard” are very dismal. The ground is wet and muddy. “Ours was the marsh country down by the river”; the road, “a long black horizontal line”, runs across the marshes. It is early evening. “The sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed.” By putting descriptions at the beginning and the end of the chapter, the cold, damp atmosphere is reinforced.
It is also important that characters are established in the first chapter of the novel. The character Pip is established in chapter 1. We have also established the hard life of the Victorian times as Pip is orphaned and his elder sister has looked after him. This is because of the death of his parents and his five brothers. Pip is “a small bundle of shivers growing afraid” when he comes across Magwitch.
He’s petrified that the “fearful man, all coarse grey…who limped and shivered,” will kill him. Magwitch glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin”. At first the reader would think that Magwitch is a frightening man, but the writer has also used words, which make the reader feel sorry for Magwitch. “A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. 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”.
In chapter 1 we see Pip’s family has mostly died. In the Victorian family life, the father would be head of the household. “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. This saying shows that Victorians firmly believed in strict punishment for children. Homeless families would end up in a workhouse, where they would be split up. We also see the harsh conditions faced by prisoners. Between 1787 and 1857, 162,000 British convicts were transported to Australia. The ships, which they were transported on, were called ‘Hulks’ – disused warships. The long voyage to Australia could take six months. Most “criminals” were only poor, desperate people.
In 1834, just 3 years before Victoria became Queen, an Act of Parliament was passed called the Poor Law Amenadate Act. The act set up the idea of workhouses. People who could not support themselves were classed as “paupers”. One example of a punishment, which was handed out at the workhouse, was whipping. Whipping was a very common form of punishment. It was done publicly as a lesson to other inmates. All these themes develop throughout the novel.
After the first chapter we see a number of changes in Pip’s life. Dissatisfaction with his earlier life is started once Pip has visited Miss Havisham’s and met Estella. Estella looks down on Pip. “What coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!” Pip feels embarrassed because Estella is finding fault with him- Pip is ashamed. For the first time in Pip’s life, he has realised that some people live in another way. “A beautiful young lady…said I was common…I wish I was not common”. He thinks he is wrong and wants to change to become a gentleman. Later he learns that he is to inherit a fortune. “My dream was out; my wild fancy was surpassed by sober reality; Miss Havisham was going to make my fortune on a grand scale”.
He has to bear the name of Pip and not ask who has given him the money. Looking back, he realises he was heartless: “O dear, good Joe, whom I was ready to leave…I was lost in mazes of my fortune would be.” Later on in the novel Joe travels to London to visit Pip. During Joe’s visit he feels he has to act differently and talk differently to Pip. “Pip, how AIR you, Pip?” he feels he is too common compared to Pip. As soon as Herbert enters the room Pip instantly feels ashamed about Joe. “A ghost-seeing effect in Joe’s own countenance informed me that Herbert had entered the room. So I presented Joe to Herbert, who held out his hand; but Joe backed from it, and held on by the bird’s-nest.”