“ …Pause you who reads this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day” – Charles Dickens: Great Expectations
Charles Dickens is, by far, one of the last people I would think to mention if I were ever to be asked to list my favorite writers. I have read enough of his work to know that I am not a big fan of it, and, even though I am required to read it for my course and I’m now reading it on a critical level, I still haven’t managed to like it yet. But this doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to take away a few good lines from his work, though.
A few days ago, while I was reading one of Charles Dicken’s classics, Great Expectations, in preparation for a text I’m writing, I came across a line that reminded me of how the journey that led me to where I am in terms of my love for reading began. The line is found at the end of chapter nine and reads as quoted above. It was after reading it that I went on a mental journey that took me all the way back to 2008.
To better understand why this line did that, I think it’s important that I explain what the quote actually means. For those of you who don’t know, Great Expectations is a novel that was first published in 1861, during the “Romantic Period”, and follows the life of Pip. In it, Pip, who also narrates the story for us, tells us about his life and the journey he went on in his efforts to becoming a “gentleman”. This line comes after he had gone through an embarrassing episode with a young, well-off lady he had a crush on. And so it was at that moment that he decided to change his life to become a gentleman. This line, in other words, was the one he said at this turning point of his life.
So, by asking us to think about the long chains that would have never bound us “but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day”, what he is in actual fact asking us to do is think about the day that began the journeys that led us to where we are today. For me, that day was the day I first picked up the book “Capitalist Nigger” by Chika Onyeani and read it – mainly because it is the first book I ever read and finished; it was the book that began my love for reading.
I can’t remember the exact day I picked it up, but I do remember that it was some day in 2008. I remember that it was immediately after the passing of my aunt. I was struggling to deal with my loss and, seeing my struggle, my English teacher suggested that I started reading more as a way to help me cope. I immediately went to the library to find books to read. Not knowing what I was going to read, I ended up picking out this specific book only because of its dark and simple cover. I was hooked as soon as I began reading the first page, and I have never stopped reading ever since.
The book is a strong critique of the economic practices of Black people, and Onyeani mentions why he believes they have not being able to make it economically in the world. In it, he calls out the “Negroid race” for being a non-producing, consumer race that depends on other communities for its culture. At the time I liked it – it introduced me to things I hadn’t ever thought about. It was the first time I came across such a critique, and I enjoyed the fresh air it brought. In my later years, though, I looked back at my love for the book with a sour taste in my mouth because I realized just how much Onyeani deliberately ignored the systematic challenges that Black people face in their efforts to economically develop themselves. If I picked the book up now, I probably would have a very different response.
Nevertheless, looking back, I realise that I was fortunate that the first book I had ever read and finished was one by an African writer, because that also fueled my love for African literature. It has been years since I first picked up that book and my love for reading had done nothing but grow over the years. I am now a full time student studying English literature, and this journey wouldn’t have happened had I never picked up that book.
So this Charles Dicken’s line in his text reminded me how important that experience actually was for me, and I figured I should share it with you guys. So, to end things off, how about you tell me what you remember about the day that began the journey you are currently on. Do you remember?
Tell us: what was a turning point in your life, the ‘first link of the chain’?