Great Expectations

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS,
CHARLES DICKENS

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Darkness/Light

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
You will need a flashlight when visiting the world of Great Expectations. The novel is pretty much glued together by darkness. Even Pip’s apartment in London looks like it is weeping soot whenever it rains. Count Dracula would feel right at home nestled on the marshes or winding his way through the gloomy London streets.

Dickens creates a universe of darkness, such that whenever there is any light (whether from the sun or from some other artificial source), we sit up right away and pay attention. On the marshes, Joe’s forge is like a beacon of warmth and light that bleeds out onto the marshes. It almost reminds us of a lighthouse, serving to guide Pip along. Similarly, Miss Havisham’s house is completely dark inside, and the only way Pip gets around is by following the candle-bearing Estella. There are other moments when little points of light feature largely. The night Magwitch comes to town, Pip sees little twinkly lights outside of his window that are the city’s lamps being shaken by the storm, as though foreshadowing trouble.

Estella, whose name means "star," is often described as bright and radiant. This confuses us, because we usually associate light with the good and darkness with the bad, and Estella isn’t always the most positive influence Pip’s life. Something tells us that this novel seeks to shake up those notions and associations that we instantly think of when we see images of darkness and light. The constant contrast between the two also emphasizes the Gothic quality of the novel and helps create a visual imprint on our brains. Gothic works and gothic images always create a (brace yourself for this ten million dollar word) chiaroscuro (we rule), setting the mood and creating an atmosphere of truth-seeking.

Mist on the Marshes

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Mists, mists, mists. There is a lot of mist in this novel, namely on the marshes of Pip’s hometown. Mists are good for 1) getting things wet and 2) making it very difficult to see things. The mists are around when Pip meets the convict in the cemetery, they show up when Pip leaves town, they are present the night that Orlick tries to kill Pip, and they rise when Pip and Estella reunite again at the (rewritten) end of the novel. After Mrs. Joe’s funeral, Pip promises Biddy that he will return, but she doesn’t believe him. This cuts Pip deep, and he looks to the mists for help and direction, "once more, the mists were rising as I walked away. If they disclosed to me, as I suspect they did, that I should never come back, and that Biddy was quite right, all I can say is—they were quite right, too" (2.35.61). In this moment, Pip uses the mist as he would an eight ball or a fortune teller; they reveal truths rather than obscure them. So the mists are pretty dang multi-dimensional. They can obstruct, and they can reveal. No matter what, they are everywhere in the novel.

Miss Havisham's garden

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
How to describe Miss Havisham’s garden in ten words or less? How about DEAD? Everything in it is either dead or deformed. The trees, vegetables, flowers, and pathways are all decaying. Whenever there’s garden in literature, however, we put on our biblical sunglasses, because gardens feature largely in the Bible. Specifically, the Garden of Eden features largely in the Bible. The fact that this particular garden is ruined suggests that innocence has been lost, that Pip has eaten the apple, and that knowledge and corruption have ensued. Miss Havisham’s garden and mansion are both symbols of the wealth and privilege of high society. But if they are decaying and rotten, what does that say about high society?

Shadows

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Shadows always abound when Estella is around. Whoa....
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