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Verbal irony is when a statement seems to contradict itself. Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something the character does not.
Verbal irony was one of Dickens’s favorite playthings. The book is full of it. Some of the best examples are used satirically.
First of all, Pip is “brought up by hand” which is a wry way of saying that his sister beats him (ch 2, p. 8).
Second, Jaggers tells Pip to trust him that he is not to be trusted!
“My name,” he said, “is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. I am pretty well known. ... If my advice had been asked, I should not have been here. It was not asked, and you see me here. What I have to do as the confidential agent of another, I do. No less, no more.” (p. 96)
Jaggers knows who Pip’s benefactor is. He does not agree with his decisions. He does not agree with Pip’s decisions. So his initial advice to Pip not to ask him for advice is well heeded.
Estella tells Pip that she has no heart. This is ironic because she actually tells him she cannot care because she cares about him. She is trying to protect him from being hurt.
“Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt,” said Estella, “and, of course, if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense.” (ch 29, p. 162)
If she reallly had no heart, or no sympathy, she would not need to tell him this.
Another example is when Miss Havisham tells Pip to love Estella.
She drew an arm round my neck, and drew my head close down to hers as she sat in the chair. “Love her, love her, love her! How does she use you?” (ch 29, p. 163)
This is ironic because she really does not want Estella to love Pip, and she only wants Pip to love Estella to break his heart.
Dramatic irony is also prevalent in Great Expectations, because the reader usually realizes that the young narrator is headed down the wrong path.
Pip thinks that Miss Havisham is his benefactor. She doesn’t correct him, but the reader suspects that Pip is wrong. When Pip lays in bed thinking about how much he loves Estella, the reader realizes he is reacting naively, because there is no way she will ever love him (ch 29, p. 166)
Finally, the greatest example of dramatic irony is in who Pip’s benefactor and Estella really are. The reader realizes that neither is the person Pip thinks. Magwitch, not Miss Havisham, turns out to be Pip’s benefactor. Estella is Magwitch’s daughter. Nothing works out the way Pip thought.
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