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What is significance of fire in stage one of Great Expectations?

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druba50 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 29, 2012 at 10:31 AM via web

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What is significance of fire in stage one of Great Expectations?

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

Posted February 29, 2012 at 2:09 PM (Answer #1)

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The motif of fire in this excellent novel is worthy of some analysis and attention, as it is used throughout the novel to indicate the kind of danger that Pip falls into through his great expectations and his dreams of aspiring to occupy a different social sphere and gain Estella's hand. Consider, for example, the use of fire and how it is linked to Estella and Pip's station in life in the following quote from Chapter 14:

I was haunted by the fear that she would, sooner or later, find me out, with a black fuce and hands, doing the coarsest part of my work, and would exult over me and despise me. Often after dark, when I was pulling the bellows for Joe, and we were singing Old Clem, and when the thought how we used to sing it at Miss Havisham's would seem to show me Estella's face in the fire, with her pretty hair fluttering in the wind and her eyes scorning me, -- often at such a time I would look towards those panels of black night in the wall which the wooden windows then were, and would fancy that I saw her just drawing her fuce away, and would believe that she had come at last.

Pip's great expectations have transformed what is a normal and natural part of his job into a constant reminiscence of his lowly status and the scorn that Estella has shown to him. Fire is something that is dangerous and can burn, and the way in which fire is used in this quote shows that Pip is damaged and burnt by the way that he sees Estella's scornful face in the flames that he looks at while working. He is damaged by his inability to accept who he is and be happy with his identity. He is damaged by his relationsihp with Estella and Miss Havisham, just as he physically is damaged by the flames that consume Miss Havisham at the end of this book.

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