Do you think that "hands" play an important part in Great Expectations? Discuss.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At times hands do indeed play a significant role in the narrative of Great Expectations. For, they are often used as indicators of character.  For instance, in the second chapter of the novel, Pip is "brought up by hand," and he describes his sister, Mrs. Joe,

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.

In contrast, Joe's hands, although strong and calloused, are at times gentle.  For example, when Pip learns from Mr. Jaggers of his "great expectations," Joe lays his hand lovingly upon Pip's shoulder "with the touch of a woman."  But, when he later visits Pip in London, Joe's hands nervously  juggle his hat that wishes to fall.

When the soldiers come on the marsh looking for the two convicts, they hold out a pair of handcuffs to Pip.  This gesture reinforces the guilt that Pip has within him.  Then, when he is invited to Miss Havisham's, Pip is made aware of his hands and how they indicate his class.  For instance, Estella  is repulsed by Pip, declaring him a "common laboring boy" whose "hands are coarse."   Then, after he returns home, Pip, who has been affected greatly by Estella's reaction to him, bemoans his "coarse hands":

I took the opportunity of being alone to look at my coarse hands and my common boots.  They had never troubled me before, but they toubled me now.

With her hands Miss Havisham covers her heart, while Estella uses hers to slap the young Pip.  She mocks him, asking if he will cry. Later, she holds the gate for Pip and touches him with a "taunting hand."  Before Pip leaves, he encounters Mr. Jaggers, a burly man, who takes Pip's chin in his large hand, turning his face to the light.  Years later, Pip observes how the lawyer so often washes his hands as though to rid himself of the corruption and evil that accompanies the many from the streets that he defends in court.

And, when Magwitch suddenly appears in London, much like the young Estella, Pip watches the hands of Provis that hold his and Pip is repulsed as he "laid his hand on my shoulder." Then, "he took both my hands and put them to his lips, while my blood ran cold within me."

When Pip visits Miss Havisham for the last time, she wrings her hands in agony as she realizes that she has been cruel to Pip.  She asks him to forgive her and sign his name.

Finally, it is Joe's large hands that offer Pip the solace and care that he so desperately desires.

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Great Expectations

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