What does the wedding feast symbolize in the Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter XI of Great Expectations Pip enters a room from which daylight has been excluded with "an airless smell that was oppressive."  In this room in which every object is covered with dust and mold, there stands a long table on which a feast had been prepared before time has been halted by Miss Havisham.  On this great table lies the remnants of a wedding cake, a "bride-cake," now ravaged by mice and spiders.  Around this table Miss Havisham has Pip walk with her; they circle it several times as the "toadies" such as Sarah Pocket tell her how well she looks.

This molded and ravaged cake represents the past, the end of Miss Havisham's romantic dream of marriage.  Along with the stopped clock, and the curtained windows, the bride-cake and the decaying feast upon the table symbolize Miss Havisham's joyous life that has ended, as well as her attempt to arrest the passage of time which no longer has meaning for her.  She tells Pip that when she dies, she will be laid upon the table.  For, since her life truly ended for her when the wedding feast was called to a halt, she wants her body to rest where her dead soul has been for years.

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