The Strange Man: How Dickens Creates Mystery and Suspense in Chapter 10

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SWBAT analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text creates mystery, tension, and suspense by asking unanswerable questions about the chapter and discussing Dickens' choices.

Big Idea

Suspense is created in the words used and in those left unsaid.

Getting Started

10 minutes

We will start by sharing the students' homework, which was to answer two questions on their reading of chapter nine, when Pip lies to Mrs. Joe, but confesses to Joe about his lies. As an extension of their homework, I plan to ask their opinions on Joe: was he overreacting about Pip's lie or is his perspective regarding dishonesty correct? I imagine that at least half of them will say that Joe is overreacting, especially since Pip lies as a way to protect himself from Mrs. Joe's wrath. I ask this question because the discussion will give the students a deeper understanding of Joe, the epitome of goodness and honesty, which will become more important as we begin to decipher theme.

The Strange Man

30 minutes

We will spend the bulk of class reading chapter 10, where Pip spends time at The Three Jolly Bargemen with Joe and is approached by a "strange man," bearing Joe's file. As we read, we will focus on how Dickens creates this character as one of mystery and how his diction builds suspense (RL.9-10.4). We will stop approximately every page or so to ask questions and clarify. For instance, why isn't the strange man called by a name? why doesn't he speak directly to Pip until the end, when he clearly came to see him? Why doesn't he explain how he came to have Joe's file? Of course, we can't answer any of these questions with conviction or even real textual evidence, but just the posing of such questions provides fodder for analysis and a deeper understanding of Dickens' motivations. Plus, the questions force students back into the book because they have to provide textual evidence for any kind of answer they might argue (RL.9-10.1).

We are getting to the part in this text where there are more questions than answers. Dickens sets up tense situations and introduces new characters, then seems to drop them, moving on to a new scene and different characters, without explanation or extensive transitions. In order to make peace with that and to read with patience, it is helpful to understand how and why Dickens leaves us wanting for answers. Focusing on his diction and tone is an outlet for our curiosity, and sometimes frustration. By analyzing the structure of the text and the language (RL.9-10.5, RL.9-10.4), we can make predictions and determine purpose. 


Discussion about Suspense

10 minutes

As we read chapter 10, we will stop intermittently to clarify any questions and to discuss how Dickens creates suspense (RL.9-10.5). This clip shows some of our discussion on the strange man in the public house (SL.9-10.1). At the end of the chapter, we will pull all of our ideas together and come to some conclusions as to why suspense is effective at this point in the story. 

These discussions are important, first because they help them become more active readers, and second, and more specifically for this chapter, they prepare students for upcoming chapters. There is a tone shift between chapter 10 and chapter 11. By the end of chapter 11, Pip is boxing a "pale young gentlemen," who is polite and adamant about fighting, yet terrible at it. The scene is comical. We will discuss the shift after reading the next chapter. 

Wrapping Up

5 minutes

Before I dismiss the class, I will remind the students of the homework: they should be reading their outside texts. They only have one more week before they must be finished.