A stylistic analysis is primarily concerned with the function of language itself, a factor that distinguishes it from the broader field of literary criticism. In order to assess the creativity or literariness of a text, a close examination of the language the author has employed is of paramount importance.
The novel as a literary genre doesn’t easily lend itself to stylistic analysis. This is mostly on account of its length. Great Expectations in particular is a somewhat lengthy and complex work, a narrative that would be monumentally time consuming and impractical to scrutinize page by page. Therefore a more focused approach is required, an exploration which concentrates on a small section or extract of the narrative, as opposed to the whole book.
One of the most pivotal events of Great Expectations occurs in Chapter 8 of the first volume, where Pip visits Satis House for the first time and encounters Miss Havisham and Estella. The following analysis examines the scene where the protagonist is left to explore the grounds of the house.
Although it partially draws on his childhood experiences, Dickens’s novel isn’t an autobiography, yet the choice of discourse architecture lends its narrative a distinctly autobiographical flavour. This is apparent throughout this section, such as with the line “I got rid of my injured feelings for the time, by kicking them into the brewery wall, and twisting them out of my hair” (p.62). The above description illustrates the complex and dualistic natures of Dickens’s narrative perspective, where we see the adult Pip retrospectively regarding the behaviour of his childhood self. Yet there’s an immediacy to the description of the boy Pip’s actions, created partially through the use of the present participles “kicking” and “twisting”.
The description is also foregrounded, through both linguistic deviation and parallelism. A person’s feelings are an abstract concept, yet here they are depicted as if they were a physical entity, something which can be kicked or twisted. Also the present participles are further connected through assonance, with the repeating of the ‘i’ sound in both “kicking” and “twisting”. This clever use of language demonstrates the dualistic nature of the narrative voice, by highlighting the discrepancy between the child and adult Pip. It is the boy who directly experiences each narrative episode yet the man who is able to employ a mature and sophisticated recollection of events, evinced here through his metaphoric use of language.
Foregrounding occurs throughout the scene, both by linguistic deviation and parallelism. The second paragraph boasts an abundance of repeated grammatical structures. The syntactical configuration of the clause “there were no pigeons in the dovecot” (p.62) is precisely reiterated three times with the grammatical subject “pigeons” and object “dovecot” altered each time within the one sentence. Therefore the word “no” occurs five times in total within this paragraph, lending the scene a negative aspect. This simplistic repetition is highly effective in foregrounding the child Pip’s dejected state. Through linguistic parallelism, it is possible to view the neglected garden as a concrete reflection of Pip’s feelings at this point.
These bleak thoughts of Pip’s have been brought about by Estella in the scene preceding this one, where her scornful behaviour towards him, openly expressed when she denounces him “for a stupid, clumsy, labouring-boy” (p.59) have suddenly made him acutely aware of his lowly status in society. Social class is a central theme in Great Expectations, illustrated in part with Pip’s newfound desire to rise above the level of a blacksmith, the profession of his older brother-in-law Joe Gargery.
By scaling the class system, Pip also supposes this will make him more appealing to Estella, who, even at this early stage, it is somewhat apparent he is in love with, evinced in the description “her pretty brown hair” (p.63). Yet she is portrayed as being coldly remote from Pip, evident in the line “Estella was walking away from me even then” (p.63). Considering this from a stylistic perspective, the linguistic concept of deixis draws the reader’s attention as to why it effectively confirms Estella’s remoteness from Pip. Deixis is a term linguists use to describe expressions that indicate distance between individuals, and it can operate on both a physical and social level, discernible in the line above. Estella is shown to be physically distant from Pip, conveyed in the word “away”, but also socially, in regards to the rigorous class system that separates the two of them.
The issue of social class is raised again later in the scene with the reappearance of Estella. She is portrayed here almost as if she was a jailer, and Pip her prisoner, evinced in the line “I saw Estella approaching with the keys, to let me out” (p.63) This serves to subtly lower the protagonist’s status even further, beyond that of “labouring-boy” and down to the same level as a convict like Magwitch.
The “triumphant glance” Estella gives Pip is somewhat ambiguous. It is clear however that she is not unreservedly repulsed by him, but instead seems to take an odd delight in his coarse hands and thick boots (tangible indicators of his lower class status) verified by the word “rejoiced”.
There then follows a segment of dialogue between Estella and Pip, the short exchange represented in the form of ‘direct speech’. This is where a character’s dialogue is portrayed directly as it is spoken, without the narrator’s intervention. The exact speech of a particular character is enclosed within quotation marks. Dickens’s use of direct speech creates a sense of immediacy in the narrative. Estella’s taunting of Pip, “Why don’t you cry?” (p.64) isn’t openly addressed to the protagonist on the page; therefore the reader is suddenly thrust into the story and shares in Pip’s discomfort.
One important point to make about the use of dialogue in Great Expectations however is that due to the novel’s discourse architecture, where the narrator is also a character in the novel, the reader is essentially reading Pip’s recollection of spoken exchanges. The veracity of these memories is therefore questionable, particularly in this instance when they occurred a considerably long time ago in the adult narrator’s past.
The final paragraph of the chapter is a critical point in the narrative in Dickens’s novel. It portrays Pip’s complete awareness and consequent distress regarding his lowly status in society, encapsulated in the final clause of the last sentence, when he states that he “was in a low-lived bad way” (p.64). The boy Pip’s experiences at Satis House have enlightened him to a world beyond the blacksmith’s forge. They constitute the beginnings of his great expectations, as well as his growing contempt of Joe, openly expressed later in the story but exemplified here by the comment “I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves Jacks” (p.64), which his kindly brother-in-law had taught him to do, and which Estella had mocked him for earlier.
How Pip arrives at this extremely negative conclusion of himself can be revealed through the application of stylistic analysis. By approaching the opening sentence of the final paragraph from a grammatical perspective, it is clear that Estella is the subject of the sentence and Pip is the object. This is because a reference to her, “she” occurs before the reference to the protagonist, “me”. She is shown to laugh “contemptuously” as she pushes him out into the street. This is one of many sequences in the first volume of Great Expectations which depict Pip as a character whom actions are performed on, as opposed to an individual who performs actions on others.
Great writing isn’t achieved by chance but instead slowly emerges through a meticulous attention to detail. A stylistic analysis of a text can reveal the many ways in which an author manipulates language to achieve their desired effect. From this short analysis it is evident how Dickens has utilized a variety of linguistic strategies to enrich the language of Great Expectations. All these strategies demonstrate an inventiveness or creativity in his novel.