The novel begins with Pip visiting his parents’ graves one evening in the cemetery alone and drawing conclusions about their appearance and personalities from the lettering on the gravestones. Without warning, a dishevelled character emerges, ordering Pip to bring him food and a file for his leg irons or he will tear out Pip’s liver and heart. The opening scene offers its audience everything they may could ask for or expect from the opening of a novel, thus living up to its name Great Expectations. The reader is plunged directly into the world of a small orphan boy attempting to piece together traces of his past in desperation to form his own identity by conjuring images and ideas about relatives he will never know. Whilst the reader experiences the deepest sympathy for Pip, Dickens intelligently takes a light-hearted approach to the situation, reflecting the perspective of a young child, as where he describes Pip as believing that his mother was ‘freckled and sickly’ according to the inscription upon her gravestone. The novel quickly moves on to introduce the escaped convict Magwitch who frightens Pip in the graveyard and shouts orders. Once again the reader is faced with yet more emotions of fear for young Pip and anticipation for what the dangerous Magwitch may do.
It may be interesting to examine the relationship Dickens portrays between young Pip and Magwitch in this opening scene. Elements of trust and desperation already play a key role in the formation of a friendship already between the two characters. At first glance, the pair may seem to arise from two different dimensions and worlds; and yet with deeper thought, the conclusion can be drawn that the two characters are in fact very similar. Pip can be described as a lost boy in this scene who cannot understand himself or his past. Much like Pip, Magwitch is an unvalued escapee who is also misunderstood in many ways and misguided. Although Magwitch deliberately frightens Pip, his desperation and need for a friend shines through his foolish actions forming the basis of a friendship already.
The opening of Great Expectations reflects many important issues in society at that time, including friendship and love in with criminality and loss. Pip and Magwitch show themselves to be two characters who appear to be very different yet both in search of the same security of friendship and safety. The opening is cleverly written by Dickens to provide its audience with an array of emotions which lay the foundations for the rest of the exhilarating and brilliant novel to follow. Overall Great Expectations truly lives up to its well-earned title.