What are some examples of figures of speech in a Great Expectations?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This book, like all Dickens books, is full of figures of speech.  There is one in the very beginning of the book:

“I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone .” (chapter 1)

By saying “on the authority of his tombstone” Pip means that he never knew his father, and can only give that name because it is on his father’s tombstone.  He goes on to say that he does not even have any pictures of his parents or siblings, and doesn’t know what they looked like.  “Pip” is a figure of speech as well, because a pip is short for pippin, which is used to describe something excellent.  Pip is to become excellent, but never quite gets there, making the name symbolic as well.

Another example of a figure of speech in the first chapter is Pip’s sister Mrs. Joe’s saying she raised him “by hand” on her own.  This makes it sound like she took a personal approach in raising him, but it means that she beat him whenever she could.  Pip notes:

“Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand.” (Chapter 2)

Pip goes on to say that he assumes that she made Joe marry her by hand, because he can’t see how she could marry any other way.

When Pip returns from his encounter with Magwitch in Chapter 2, Joe tells him:

“Mrs. Joe has been out a dozen times, looking for you, Pip. And she's out now, making it a baker's dozen.”

This is another figure of speech still common today.  A dozen is twelve, and a baker’s dozen is thirteen.



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