seMany of Charles Dickens novels first appeared as weekly episodes in magazines in serial form. This is much harder to do than simply writing a novel due to the fact that just one bad episode could put people off from buying the next edition. To keep this from happening with Great Expectations, every episode had to leave the reader with a reason to purchase the next episode. To do this the writer Charles Dickens had to make readers curious or interested and desperate to find out what will happen to the characters theyve, hopefully, if the serial is well written, become so well acquainted with, and are able to relate to.
Its the same with the television serials or soap operas of today, so called due to the fact that companies who produced soap originally sponsored them. They all need to have interesting storylines and multiple plots and most episodes need to end with what is known as a cliffhanger. The television companies generally use them, if particularly exiting and dramatic, to boost ratings, generally speaking this method is very successful.
Dickens creates interesting situations all the time with characters in awkward places, conflicting opinions between characters with clashing personalities. They all have defining traits, which help the readers to connect with the characters, innumerable references to fire when the convict is around for example. Characters have to have their own, believable, personalities and act as you would expect them to. Otherwise the storyline would have become implausible and people wouldnt have bought it. These qualities are particularly crucial in Great Expectations but never more so than in the first episode. The format, which the episode takes, is likely to affect the readers opinions on the series as a whole.
Overcomplicating the novel with multiple storylines, plots and characters can be confusing, but readers want to be bored about as much as they want to be confused, so it is very difficult to find a happy medium. We stereotype the entire series on how good the first episode is. Which, although relatively unfair and in many cases not at all accurate, it is still what we tend to do. This is why the quality of the first episode of Great Expectations is so important as, although theres a definite need for all the episodes to be well written and interesting, if the first episode isnt then no matter how exceptional the other episodes are it will be too late. To add to this, the future of the magazine Dickens was writing for depended on Great Expectations being a success, it was experiencing serious financial difficulties.
Fortunately, lack of interest wasnt a difficulty Great Expectations faced. After youve finished reading the first episode there already reasons to want to continue reading the story. For example Dickens leave many unanswered questions: Who is the convict? Why was he in prison in the first place? What happens to Pip? He also starts to reveal the personalities he has, so far, introduced. For example you begin to see the Pips naivety when he doesnt know what a convict is or why the man has irons on his legs. The only conclusion we can draw from this is that Pip must have led a relatively sheltered life.
When Joe shields Pip from Mrs. Joe so she cant hurt him anymore we gather that not only is Joe a very kind person, we can also conclude that, in order for him to shield Pip he must be a well built man. Dickens gives readers information about what the characters look like helps them to build up a mental image of them, which forms a closer connection, in the readers mind between themselves and the characters.
We also begin to see characters opinions of not only themselves but those around them as well. One example of this is Mrs. Joe. Shes a very self opinionated character whose attitude implies that she believes she is very much a victim of misfortune after having Pip thrust upon her after such unfortunate circumstances. She obviously feels she could have been more than a blacksmiths wife, had she not been burdened with Pip. In other words she had disappointed expectations for herself which ties in with not only the title but also the theme of the novel. She also excessively uses the term I brought you up by hand. The phrasing of this is very important here; it implies that doing this was a lot of hard work and effort, and this is always apparent when she speaks to Pip. It seems almost as if she thinks it was Pips fault that his parents died and he had to come to live with her. She resents him for her not moving up in the world and thinks he is ungrateful for what she sacrificed for him. Although not all of these conclusions can be drawn from the first episode alone, it is the starting point, from which storylines are developed.
We also meet the convict in the first episode; he in fact dominates most of Pips thoughts throughout the whole episode as well as the thoughts of the reader. Dickens provides a very detailed description of him formatted in a long list. This layout is one, which few novelists dare to use as lists often become boring but Dickens carries it off successfully. He sounds like a very dishevelled type of a man, he was lamed by stones, for example. Its as though his getting as far as the cemetery where we first encounter him has been an indescribable ordeal. So, despite his initial attitude and appearance you begin to feel some form of sympathy for the convict.
One of the individual traits of Dickens novels is that practically every character you meet has some relevance to the overall plot of the story. Even people such as Jaggers housemaid, who we meet later on in the novel, turns out to be significant to the overall plot. So we can tell that although the convicts we meet in the first episode are back on the Hulks by the end of the second episode, it will not be the last we see of them.
I think that one of the reasons Dickens was such a successful series writer was because he didnt treat his readers like children. He didnt lay things out in black and white. He said this is the information now you sort through it and draw your own conclusion as to what it means. He paid attention to detail when writing the first episode of Great Expectations without flooding it with so much information as to overcomplicate it. It doesnt become a chore to read and would have left readers desperate to purchase the next episode to see the story develop and answer all the questions they have.