Friday, September 10, 2010

Great Expectations, chapter 1

Probably all of you noticed this as well, but I must say I was jolted to discover that both Moby-Dick and Great Expectations begin with versions of "Call me this name." Moreover, in both cases the names are single words, without surnames. So here we have two characters, each rootless in his own way: one a wandering sailor, the other an orphan in a marshy graveyard. Yet in both novels the name is the first and most vital point of conversation and connection: "this is who I am."

What are your thoughts about this name issue--or about anything else in GE chapter?

And now, regarding our reading schedule: several of us seem to be hamstrung by our slow progress, so I'd like to negotiate a new schedule. Do you want to read the books simultaneously or continue to alternate? And how many chapters could you consume in a week? In both novels, the chapters are fairly short, although the Melville is dense and the Dickens is busy.


Ruth said...

Well, I'll weigh in regarding style of reading. I'd like to read them simultaneously , but I can manage whatever we decide as to the number of chapters. I am so enjoying this experience that it is not a chore to read both.

Teresa C. said...

I'd also like to read them simultaneously and can go along with whatever reading schedule is decided upon.

Thomas said...

"Call me Ishmael": the name seems self-chosen (isn't it the case that he's rarely called by name throughout the novel?), whereas Pip identifies himself through his family name, his dead family, from whom he is separated but longs to be with. But, as with his infant garbling of his name, he is unable to be joined with them. Likewise, whereas Ishmael's chapter ends with his anticipation of the open sea and "wonder-world" of the whale hunt, Pip's chapter ends with his seeking home. The adult and the child: one seeking freedom from others, the other longing for the bosom of the family.
Reading simultaneously works for me, too. I'll try to keep up with whatever number of chapters is decided upon.

Dawn Potter said...

It's interesting, the way in which different writers deal with the concept of the lonely person . . . and also intriguing to speculate about when loneliness became part of literature. I don't get a feeling of loneliness from Jane Austen, say--but Dickens, yes, Melville, yes. I realize that Austen writes in the third person (except for "Lady Susan") and that the "I" has been around for a long time, but once it seemed to have functioned more as picaresque linchpin ("Clarissa" or "Tristram Shandy") than as the revelation of a single human soul. Anyway, I like Thomas's comments on the differences in naming and how that reveals the nature of each character's isolation.

Mr. Hill said...

In addition to all of the kind of surprising parallels between our two novels here, I think the contrast between Melville's weighty earnestness and Dickens's almost cartoonish characterizations is another reason to continue the alternating schedule. It's refreshing to go back and forth.

The only other Dickens I've read is D.C., and, reading the first chapter of G.E., I was so happy just to see how it is going to be as laugh out loud funny as Copperfield is. For me at least, that dry dramatic irony we get to experience through Pip's narration is the perfect complement to Ishmael.

I think a lot about the wit in Dickens because I know so many high school students who read it straight, missing the point. I don't teach it in my class, but I know many students who have read all of D.C. without even noticing that it has humorous intentions. It's not that they don't like the humor of Dickens--they don't even register that it's there. I'm starting to feel like I've gone on about this before here, so I'll just be quiet now. But still, it's a mystery.

Ruth said...

Thomas, I've been thinking about your comment "The adult and the child: one seeking freedom from others, the other longing for the bosom of the family." Recently a young friend of mine, newly on her own lamented that she wanted to be a child again and to be free of having to "survive", "cope with difficulties" and "make decisions" So I am wondering if Pip too is seeking that kind of freedom when he yearns for family.

Al and Adam said...

I was interested in Thomas's comment about the way the narrators' names were presented to us, and I was thinking it might be a sign of how the books will proceed. I haven't read Moby Dick, but it seems like, in spite of giving us some vague details about Ishmael's life and how he ends up on this particular adventure, it may be that it's a story being told from the perspective of a marginal character. On the other hand, although we witness the interesting stories and dramas of other characters as part of the narrative, Pip's life is at the center of Great Expectations. Also, it's an interesting contrast to have spent a leisurely chapter in Moby Dick with Ishmael's musings about his yearning for the sea and how he was drawn to this voyage, while we have jumped very abruptly right into the action in Great Expectations.

Dawn Potter said...


Spooky book fates indeed: action in both opens at night in an inhospitable, eerie, ominous environment. In both it's the eve of a holy day (Saturday night in MD, Christmas Eve in GE). In both the protagonist meets and is connected to a frightening stranger, on terms not of his choosing. And fears for his life.

Neat how Dickens links Magwitch and Pip through a shackled leg, Magwitch's ankle iron vs. Pip's bread slice down his trouser leg at the ankle. And maybe through the bolting of food, very real in one, imaginary in the other. Pip is a kind of prisoner too, along with Joe Gargery. And amazing how a chance meeting instantly compromises this honest innocent, though conscience stricken, into dishonesty and thievery.

Am betting it's no accident either that Ishmael's diction in his confrontation with the landlord is so stilted compared to the landlord's more natural and colloquial voice. So maybe Ishmael's reference to a schoolteacher in Chapter One was more personal than he let on? Which would also mean Melville has already tipped his hand that Ishmael is at least a little cagey as a narrator. And look at the foreshadowing yet again, the dimly perceived painting on the wall of the whale about to wreck the whale ship.

Writing style: Dickens has it all over Melville so far.