In chapter 39 of Great Expectations, what is the symbolism of the convict holding out both of his hands to Pip? 

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kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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Pip’s convict--Magwitch--holds out his hands to Pip four times in the course of the chapter. Each time he is hoping for acknowledgement and acceptance of the bond between them, which has made Pip the gentleman he aspired to be. Initially Pip does not recognise his benefactor. The gesture symbolises how wide the gulf is between Pip’s past and present--

 I looked at him attentively then, and recoiled a little from him; but I did not know him.

When Magwitch takes Pip’s hands for the first time the young man is in shock-

He came back to where I stood, and again held out both his hands. Not knowing what to do—for, in my astonishment I had lost my self-possession—I reluctantly gave him my hands. He grasped them heartily, raised them to his lips, kissed them, and still held them.

We see that Magwitch is still acknowledging the gratitude of the small boy on the marshes, and celebrates the success in elevating Pip to his present station in life. Pip does not understand or appreciate the context in which Magwitch has returned, and cannot accept that this dirty convict is the benefactor whom he took to be Miss Havisham-

The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast.

 Pip is appalled by the physical contact of the man and the gesture seemingly of gratitide, but actually equality. The gesture can also be said to symbolise Pip's inability to read and understand those around him, which causes him heartache throughout the text.

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