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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Analysis: Tone

Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?

Reflective, Remorseful, Nostalgic, Comical,

Do you ever replay embarrassing or traumatizing moments from the past on the movie screen of your brain? If you do (and we do all the time) then you know how traumatizing it can be to re-watch these traumatizing moments. It's double-trauma. (Somebody page Dr. House.) So, naturally, Pip's tone has some regret at having made some poor choices, as well as longing for the good old days on the marshes. But it's not all trauma. Check out this sad little moment when Pip goes off to stay the night with Mr. Pumblechook before going to Miss Havisham's:

I had never parted from him before, and what with my feelings and what with soapsuds, I could at first see no stars from the chaise-cart. But they twinkled out one by one, without throwing any light on the questions why on earth I was going to play at Miss Havisham's, and what on earth I was expected to play at. (7.92)

Dickens definitely makes us feel the pathos of this little boy being dragged off away from everyone he's known to fulfill some vague request—but at the same time, he phrases it in such a way ("what with my feelings and what with soapsuds") that we can't help chuckling, even though he's describing little Pip crying as he leaves.

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