Chapter I

MY FATHER'S FAMILY name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister—Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them (for their days were long before the days of photographs), my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. The shape of the letters on my father's gave me an odd idea that he was a square, stout, dark man, with curly black hair. From the character and turn of the inscription, “Also Georgiana Wife of the Above,” I drew a childish conclusion that my mother was freckled and sickly. To five little stone lozenges, each about a foot and a half long, which were arranged in a neat row beside their grave, and were sacred to the memory of five little brothers of mine—who gave up trying to get a living exceedingly early in that universal struggle—I am indebted for a belief I religiously entertained that they had all been born on their backs with their hands in their trousers-pockets, and had never taken them out in this state of existence.

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. At such a time I found out for certain, that this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the churchyard; and that Philip Pirrip, late of this parish, and also Georgiana wife of the above, were dead and buried; and that Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger, infant children of the aforesaid, were also dead and buried; and that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip.

“Hold your noise!” cried a terrible voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. “Keep still, you little devil, or I'll cut your throat!”

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. 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, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

“O! Don't cut my throat, sir,” I pleaded in terror. “Pray don't do it, sir.”

“Tell us your name!” said the man. “Quick!”

“Pip, sir.”

“Once more,” said the man, staring at me. “Give it mouth!”

“Pip. Pip, sir.”

“Show us where you live,” said the man. “Pint out the place!”

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the aldertrees and pollards, a mile or more from the church.

The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down, and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece of bread. When the church came to itself—for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet—when the church came to itself, I say, I was seated on a high tombstone, trembling, while he ate the bread ravenously.

“You young dog,” said the man, licking his lips, “what fat cheeks you ha' got.”

I believe they were fat, though I was at that time undersized, for my years, and not strong.

“Darn Me if I couldn't eat 'em,” said the man, with a threatening shake of his head, “and if I han't half a mind to't!”

I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn't, and held tighter to the tombstone on which he had put me; partly, to keep myself upon it; partly, to keep myself from crying.

“Now lookee here!” said the man. “Where's your mother?”

“There, sir!” said I.

He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder.

“There, sir!” I timidly explained. “Also Georgiana. That's my mother.”

“Oh!” said he, coming back. “And is that your father alonger your mother?”

“Yes, sir,” said I; “him too; late of this parish.”

“Ha!” he muttered then, considering. “Who d'ye live with—supposin' you're kindly let to live, which I han't made up my mind about?”

“My sister, sir—Mrs. Joe Gargery—wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir.”

“Blacksmith, eh?” said he. And looked down at his leg.

After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he came closer to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.

“Now lookee here,” he said, “the question being whether you're to be let to live. You know what a file is?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you know what wittles is?”

“Yes, sir.”

After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.

“You get me a file.” He tilted me again. “And you get me wittles.” He tilted me again. “You bring 'em both to me.” He tilted me again. “Or I'll have your heart and liver out.” He tilted me again.

I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I clung to him with both hands, and said, “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn't be sick, and perhaps I could attend more.”

He gave me a most tremendous dip and roll, so that the church jumped over its own weather-cock. Then, he held me by the arms in an upright position on the top of the stone, and went on in these fearful terms:

“You bring me, to-morrow morning early, that file and them wittles. You bring the lot to me, at that old Battery over yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen such a person as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to live. You fail, or you go from my words in any partickler, no matter how small it is, and your heart and your liver shall be tore out, roasted, and ate. Now, I ain't alone, as you may think I am. There's a young man hid with me, in comparison with which young man I am a Angel. That young man hears the words I speak. That young man has a secret way pecooliar to himself, of getting at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver. It is in wain for a boy to attempt to hide himself from that young man. A boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself up, may draw the clothes over his head, may think himself comfortable and safe, but that young man will softly creep and creep his way to him and tear him open. I am a keeping that young man from harming of you at the present moment, with great difficulty. I find it wery hard to hold that young man off of your inside. Now, what do you say?”

I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the Battery, early in the morning.

“Say, Lord strike you dead if you don't!” said the man.

I said so, and he took me down.

“Now,” he pursued, “you remember what you've undertook, and you remember that young man, and you get home!”

“Goo-good night, sir,” I faltered.

“Much of that!” said he, glancing about him over the cold wet flat. “I wish I was a frog. Or a eel!”

At the same time, he hugged his shuddering body in both his arms—clasping himself, as if to hold himself together—and limped towards the low church wall. As I saw him go, picking his way among the nettles, and among the brambles that bound the green mounds, he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the hands of the dead people, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his ankle and pull him in.

When he came to the low church wall, he got over it, like a man whose legs were numbed and stiff, and then turned round to look for me. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home, and made the best use of my legs. But presently I looked over my shoulder, and saw him going on again towards the river, still hugging himself in both arms, and picking his way with his sore feet among the great stones dropped into the marshes here and there, for stepping-places when the rains were heavy, or the tide was in.

The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed. On the edge of the river I could faintly make out the only two black things in all the prospect that seemed to be standing upright; one of these was the beacon by which the sailors steered—like an unhooped cask upon a pole—an ugly thing when you were near it; the other a gibbet, with some chains hanging to it which had once held a pirate. The man was limping on towards this latter, as if he were the pirate come to life, and come down, and going back to hook himself up again. It gave me a terrible turn when I thought so; and as I saw the cattle lifting their heads to gaze after him, I wondered whether they thought so too. I looked all round for the horrible young man, and could see no signs of him. But now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.


  1. It was one of Dickens' chief characteristics to write about serious matters in a humorous way. He started his literary career writing humorous sketches and retained that humor in his style so that it became his trademark, so to speak. In this chapter he is writing about a terrifying experience in which a little boy seems to be in danger of losing his life. And yet Dickens somehow manages to make it all seem funny, even including the fact that he is an orphan and that he is at the spot where his mother, father, and five brothers are all buried. Dickens' convict seems terrible, but at the same time he seems comical because of his way of expressing himself and also because of his bravado which is really his way of covering up his great anxiety and desperation.

    — William Delaney
  2. Magwitch obviously knows nothing about small children. He should, of course, realize that Pip would know what wittles (food, vittles) are and what a file is. Magwitch's lack of understanding explains why he fails to realize how much the mere sight of him has terrified Pip and how strongly Pip is motivated to obey him when he says, "Or I'll have your heart and liver out." Magwitch, alone in the Australian Outback, will think of Pip acting generously and "nobly" when, in reality, Pip was solely motivated to steal his sister's provisions out of blind terror. The fact that Pip never feels he acted generously or "nobly," as Magwitch tells him in the crucial Chapter 39, helps to explain why Pip never had the slightest suspicion that his patron could have been the Convict he met on the marshes.

    — William Delaney
  3. Dickens includes these lines of dialogue in order to inform the Convict that Pip is an orphan. (Pip has already divulged this information to the reader.) The fact that the Convict (Abel Magwitch) feels pity as well as empathy for the orphan boy will strengthen his motivation to help him rise in the world when Magwitch is in a position to do so. According to his life's story which he relates to Pip and Herbert in Chapter 42, Magwitch grew up as a homeless waif who lived by stealing and never knew his mother or father. Dickens needed to make it seem plausible that Magwitch would actually devote his life to making Pip a wealthy gentleman on the basis of their brief encounter in chapters 1 and 3. Magwitch feels deep gratitude to Pip for the food and brandy he provided. He does not completely realize the great extent to which he had succeeded in terrorizing the small boy and attributes more to Pip's generosity and "nobility" than Pip really deserves. Pip describes himself as timid and sensitive.

    I had cherished a profound conviction that her [his sister's] bringing me up by hand gave her no right to bring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this assurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary and unprotected way, I in great part refer the fact that I was morally timid and very sensitive.


    — William Delaney
  4. The convict, Abel Magwitch, has a tendency to pronounce "V's" as "W's." He calls himself "a warmint" rather than "varmint" later in the story when he is telling Pip about his past life. Note that the convict says, "It is in wain for a boy to attempt to hide himself from that young man," rather than "in vain." In that same paragraph the convict says, "I find it wery hard to hold that young man off of your inside."

    — William Delaney
  5. A fictional character is not a real person but only a name, some description of his appearance and actions, and some dialogue. A good fiction writer will usually introduce a character "in character," that is, looking and acting the part he plays. This escaped convict is an example of one of Charles Dickens' great literary gifts--his ability to create memorable characters. The convict's speech shows he is a violent and desperate man from the lowest order of society. His appearance actually symbolizes his whole life. He has always been, literally or figuratively, cold and hungry, shabbily dressed, soaked in water, smothered in mud, lamed by stones, cut by flints, stung by nettles, and torn by briars. He has always been running and hiding and fighting to stay alive. His escape from the hulks is just one more small episode in his harsh and bitter existence.

    Pip too is introduced "in character" in this chapter. He is an orphan, so he is shown visiting the graves of his father, mother, and five brothers. 

    It is interesting and instructive to observe how a good author will introduce his characters. Pip's sister, for example, is "on a rampage" when she first appears in Chapter 2. She is figuratively always on a rampage because she is dissatisfied with her lot in life.

    — William Delaney
  6. It is important to the plot for this convict to learn and remember the name Pip. That is why Dickens has him ask the boy his name and then makes him repeat it twice more. Magwitch will have to remember that name for years before he is in any financial position to think about providing for him in such a lavish way. Later he will make it one of the conditions of the boy's "great expectations" that he will always keep the name of Pip. This is so that Magwitch will have no trouble finding him again in the future-- although he is not thinking of rewarding him at this point in the story. It is only after Pip brings him the food and brandy in Chapter 3 and expresses sympathy for him, that Magwitch feels such gratitude that he resolves to work hard and earn enough money to make Pip a gentleman. In Chapter 39 he will tell the twenty-three-year-old Pip:

    I swore arterwards, sure as ever I spec'lated and got rich, you should get rich. I lived rough, that you should live smooth; I worked hard that you should be above work. What odds, dear boy? Do I tell it fur you to feel a obligation? Not a bit. I tell it, fur you to know as that there hunted dunghill dog wot you kep life in, got his head so high that he could make a gentleman—and, Pip, you're him!”


    — William Delaney
  7. Survival of all living creatures, including Homo sapiens, is a "universal struggle." Pip seems to have survived miraculously, while his father and mother and five brothers failed to do so. Great Expectations was published in 1860. Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published in 1859. Darwin was indebted to Thomas Robert Malthus, whose highly influential 1798 work An Essay on the Principle of Population was based on the so-called Malthusian Doctrine that population increases exponentially while the food supply increases arithmetically. In other words, population has to increase faster than the food supply, and there will always be scarcity and a competition for survival of the fittest. Darwin could see how this factor could have a strong influence on the evolution of species because of the fierce competition for resources. Darwin wrote:

    A struggle for existence naturally follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase. There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally increases at so high a rate, that if not destroyed, the earth would soon be covered by the progeny of a single pair.

    Pip only managed to survive without parents because of his sister. Yet he has had to pay a fearful price for her charity. He has been physically and verbally abused all his life.

    My sister’s bringing up had made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and the world is small, and its rocking-horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter. Within myself, I had sustained, from my babyhood, a perpetual conflict with injustice. I had known, from the time when I could speak, that my sister, in her capricious and violent coercion, was unjust to me. I had cherished a profound conviction that her bringing me up by hand gave her no right to bring me up by jerks. Through all my punishments, disgraces, fasts and vigils, and other penitential performances, I had nursed this assurance; and to my communing so much with it, in a solitary and unprotected way, I in great part refer the fact that I was morally timid and very sensitive.

    Her mistreatment has obviously given him an inferiority complex. He writes disparagingly or mockingly of himself throughout the novel. He feels guilty and ashamed much of the time. The name Pip--which he invented for himself, as he says--suggests a very small, unimportant person. The superficial persona of a London gentleman which he develops is easily punctured and deflated when Magwitch reveals that it is he, not Miss Havisham, who has been supporting Pip all these years.

    When Pip becomes a gentleman of leisure, he cannot help realizing that his existence is based on the hard work of others. This becomes especially apparent when he actually meets the convict Abel Magwitch who is solely responsible for Pip's affluence and comfort. 

    — William Delaney
  8. The name, or pseudonym, Pip is to become of great importance in the novel. One of the conditions attached to Pip's "great expectations" (see Chapter 18) is that he will keep the name of Pip for the rest of his life. So when he becomes a London gentleman, the narrator/protagonist calls himself Mr. Pip rather than Mr. Pirrip. He assumes this is only one of Miss Havisham's little whims or fancies, of which she has many; since he always takes it for granted that she is his anonymous benefactress. However, the true reason is that his real benefactor, the transported convict Abel Magwitch, intends to return from Australia some day (as he finally does in Chapter 39) and he wants to be able to find his protege easily, even if it is many years before he can manage to return to England. Pip is twenty-three years old when he meets Magwitch again (in Chapter 39), and he has not seen or heard from the convict since he met him in Chapters 1 and 3 when he was a very small boy.

    The name Pip also serves to suggest throughout the novel that the protagonist is really a very unimportant individual in spite of his great expectations and grandiose ambitions. When Pip again meets Magwitch in Chapter 39, the tough, wizened old convict makes the young "gentleman" realize how ignorant, useless, and insignificant he really is. 

    — William Delaney
  9. The fact that the escaped convict "starts up from among the graves" makes him even more terrifying to poor little Pip. It is as if the convict is a dead man who has suddenly come to life and has arisen right out of the ground. It is certainly understandable that a little boy would be terrified by the man and by the situation, but it is a sign of Pip's strength of character that he is able to act as sensibly as he actually does. This strength can be attributed to the fact that Pip has already had to endure a hard life. He is an orphan and has been raised by an older sister who abuses him verbally and physically. He is used to being frightened because he has been frightened by his shrewish sister for years. He has no sense of security because his sister's mistreatment make him fear that he might even lose her grudging charity whenever she might be so inclined. She could conceivably send him off to an orphan asylum or a workhouse. 

    — William Delaney
  10. Setting: Throughout the first chapter Dickens has created an inhospitable setting. This reflects the turmoil that Pip's has experienced and will continue to experience in life.

    — Mike Walter
  11. In terms of weather, this word means cold, windy, uncomfortable.

    — Mike Walter
  12. In this paragraph, Dickens characterizes the deceased members of Pip's family through Pip's thoughts. This also characterizes Pip as an imaginative child.

    — Mike Walter
  13. This refers to the shape of the small grave markers--rectangular. They are small because they mark the graves of children.

    — Mike Walter