Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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What is the significance of the description of one setting in Great Expectations?

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One of the most important settings in the book is Satis House, because Satis House is symbolic.  It was once a grand and well-lived in mansion.  It was once productive.  It is now in ruins.  This is a metaphor for Miss Havisham and the ruin her life has become.

Like Miss Havisham, the house leads a life of seclusion.  It is little used.

We went into the house by a side door—the great front entrance had two chains across it outside—and the first thing I noticed was, that the passages were all dark, and that she had left a candle burning there. (ch 8, p. 40)

This is the first description of the actual house, and it is used to foreshadow the conditions Pip will find.  The door is blocked. Pip should not go in that house.  In fact, his life might have gone better if he had not.  When he enters Miss Havisham’s rooms, he finds them dusty, moldy, and disused as well.

I entered, therefore, and found myself in a pretty large room, well lighted with wax candles. No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. (ch 8, p. 40)

Miss Havisham is the same.  She wears an old tattered wedding dress.  She and the moldy house are the same.  They demonstrate what happens when you focus too much one on thing.  In Miss Havisham’s case, being left at the altar on her wedding day destroyed her.  For her, time stopped that day.  It stopped too for the house.  The house’s decay foreshadows destruction in Pip’s future once associated with her.

Throughout the book, there are other settings described in just as much detail.  This careful detail is designed to strike a chord with the reader, and help the reader see the deeper meaning behind the place.


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