Pip’s surroundings—in this section, the “shrouded” marshes of Kent and the oppressive bustle of Mrs. Joe’s house—are also important to the novel. Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens uses setting to create dramatic atmosphere: the setting of the book always sets the tone for the action and reinforces Pip’s perception of his situation. When the weather is dark and stormy, trouble is usually brewing, and when Pip goes alone into the mist-shrouded marsh, danger and ambiguity usually await. In this section, Pip’s story shifts rapidly between dramatic scenes with the convict on the marshes and comical scenes under Mrs. Joe’s thumb at home. Despite Mrs. Joe’s rough treatment of Pip, which she calls bringing him up “by hand,” the comedy that pervades her household in Chapter 2 shows that it is a safe haven for Pip, steeped in Joe’s quiet goodness despite Mrs. Joe’s bombast. When Pip ventures out alone onto the marshes, he leaves the sanctuary of home for vague, murky churchyards and the danger of a different world. This sense of embarking alone into the unknown will become a recurrent motif throughout the novel, as Pip grows up and leaves his childhood home behind.
In terms of narrative, the introduction of the convict is the most important occurrence in the plot of the first section. Though Pip believes that the convict’s appearance in his life is an isolated incident, he will feel this character’s influence in many ways throughout the novel. The convict will later reappear as the grim Magwitch, Pip’s secret benefactor and the chief architect of his “great expectations.” Though Dickens gives us no indication of the man’s future in Pip’s life, he does create the sense that the convict will return, largely by building a sense of mystery around the man’s situation and around his relationship to the second convict Pip encounters in the marsh.