Study Guide

Great Expectations Contrasting Regions

By Charles Dickens

Contrasting Regions

Chapter 1

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. (1.3)

Hm, this isn't starting off well: "marsh country" and "raw afternoon" don't really give us the impression of a happy, bucolic childhood.

Chapter 3
Pip

It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket-handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders' webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blade. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village—a direction which they never accepted, for they never came there—was invisible to me until I was quite close under it. Then, as I looked up at it, while it dripped, it seemed to my oppressed conscience like a phantom devoting me to the Hulks. (3.1)

The mists make things look "phantom-like" and "invisible"—almost as though the marshes are a dream-world. Or, maybe a nightmare world. Either way, there's something not-quite-real about them.

Chapter 20
Pip

The journey from our town to the metropolis, was a journey of about five hours. It was a little past mid-day when the four-horse stage-coach by which I was a passenger, got into the ravel of traffic frayed out about the Cross Keys, Wood-street, Cheapside, London. (20.1)

Okay, five hours is probably more like twenty minutes today. But just because you can get to London in a day doesn't mean that the two places have much in common: to Pip, this is like moving all the way across the continent for college.

Chapter 21
Mr. Wemmick

So imperfect was this realization of the first of my great expectations, that I looked in dismay at Mr. Wemmick. "Ah!" said he, mistaking me; "the retirement reminds you of the country. So it does me." (21.22)

While Barnard's Inn reminds Londoners of the country, it reminds Pip of something altogether very different. Suddenly we don't feel so excited for this new city-living. Anybody know where the Dyson is?

Pip

My depression was not alleviated by the announcement, for, I had supposed that establishment to be an hotel kept by Mr. Barnard, to which the Blue Boar in our town was a mere public-house. Whereas I now found Barnard to be a disembodied spirit, or a fiction, and his inn the dingiest collection of shabby buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for Tom-cats. (21.20)

Here's the first sign that Pip's great expectations aren't going to be all that great—and a clue to tell us not to split things in this book into simple categories of "good" and "bad." London may be different from Kent, but that doesn't mean it's nicer.

Chapter 25

At last, when we got to his place of business and he pulled out his key from his coat-collar, he looked as unconscious of his Walworth property as if the Castle and the drawbridge and the arbour and the lake and the fountain and the Aged, had all been blown into space together by the last discharge of the Stinger. (25.54)

Similar to Satis House, Wemmick's castle seems to be suspended in time and seems to belong to another universe altogether. There's an element of fantasy here in the way that Wemmick's personality changes so drastically—he's literally a different person in different places.

Chapter 28
Pip

But I must have lost it longer than I had thought, since, although I could recognize nothing in the darkness and the fitful lights and shadows of our lamps, I traced marsh country in the cold damp wind that blew at us. Cowering forward for warmth and to make me a screen against the wind, the convicts were closer to me than before. The very first words I heard them interchange as I became conscious were the words of my own thought, "Two One Pound notes." (28.20)

We never get to see what lies between Kent and London, even though Pip makes this exact journey like ten million times. There's something almost mystical about the journey between each region. If the landscape of marsh country represents or reflects Pip's inner monologue, then the journey from London to Kent, replete with mistiness and all, is perhaps a journey into a state of self-reflection—like how Pip's thoughts are articulated in the convicts' real-time conversation. In the marsh country, there seems to be less of a division between internal life and external reality.

Chapter 30
Pip

I turned my head aside, for, with a rush and a sweep, like the old marsh winds coming up from the sea, a feeling like that which had subdued me on the morning when I left the forge, when the mists were solemnly rising, and when I laid my hand upon the village finger-post, smote upon my heart again. There was silence between us for a little while. (30.41)

Just in case we're not getting it, Dickens basically lays it out for us here: the mists of Pip's hometown are an external representation of the mists inside his head. External is internal; internal is external.

Chapter 32
Mr. Wemmick

"However, this is not London talk. Where do you think I am going to?" (32.5)

Wemmick feels so strongly the division and distinction between London and Walworth that he won't even talk about his personal life, almost as if it doesn't even exist. Pip and Wemmick are similar in that each man's home is very different from his life in London. But Pip rejects his home in the name of London, while Wemmick finds a way to make both coexist—by denying that home exists when he's at work, or that work exists while he's at home. Talk about work/live balance.

Chapter 34
Pip

Many a time of an evening, when I sat alone looking at the fire, I thought, after all, there was no fire like the forge fire and the kitchen fire at home. (34.1)

It's not all marshes and darkness down by the river: Joe's forge is cozy and warm, especially once the threat of Mrs. Joe is neutralized. This just might be the most home-like of any place Pip goes.