The man was limping on towards this latter, as if he were the pirate come to life, and come down, and going back to hook himself up again. It gave me a terrible turn when I thought so; and as I saw the cattle lifting their heads to gaze after him, I wondered whether they thought so too. I looked all round for the horrible young man, and could see no signs of him. but, now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping.
This passage sets the tone for the first, dramatic scene of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, when the young boy Pip has his life-altering encounter with the convict Magwitch. Immediately, the reader learns that the boy, Pip lives in the country, because of the grazing cattle on the field and the overgrown nettles of the untended graveyard. The reader also learns that people rather rarely leave this isolated country, as the people in the graves have a long, long history of remaining in the area. Entire families, including the orphaned narrators, are interred in the churchyard.
The focus on gravestones creates a morbid atmosphere, especially since the tale is being narrated from the perspective of a young child, who is looking at the gravestones of his nearest and dearest family members. This helps set the scene for Pips grim life at home with his sister, Mrs. Joe, and her husband.
A reader might wonder why a young boy is so focused on death and the past. There seems little else in the country where he lives but death and horror. The haunting of the present by the past is something that will feature even more prominently in the novel later.