Sentence Parsing

While reading Great Expectations, students work with some difficult sentences. We begin the unit, therefore, by looking a couple of examples.

Example One

Early in the first chapter we see a description of Pip’s parents’ and brothers’ graves. In it, Dickens employs a common strategy of burying the main clause of the sentence deep in the sentence, with much of the preliminary clauses and phrases an object of the later main clause.

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.

After analyzing it, we conclude the following relationships:

Example Two

Shortly after the first example, Dickens includes a second type of sentence he is fond of using: a complex sentence with a series of dependent clauses:

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.

We analyze it, looking at punctuation as a clue for the sentence’s sense:

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