In Great Expectations, how is the light coming from Joe's forge in Chapter 11 part of the light/dark symbolism?

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accessteacher's profile pic

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

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It is important to notice the subtle use of imagery in this excellent novel by Dickens and the way that he associates Pip's hopes and dreams of becoming rich and winning the hand of Estella with darkness, obviously indicating that there is something wrong or unnatural about these hopes that will lead Pip into a metaphorical "darkness" as he betrays those whom love him and his very self, and then the "light" that is used to indicate Pip's roots, his natural home, and the care, affection and love that characters such as Joe and Biddy have for him. It is highly significant, therefore, that at the end of Chapter 11, Pip records how he was able to kiss Estella's cheek, having fought for her, and then straight away how when he leaves, he notes that the countryside has been plunged into darkness, just as he has been plunged into darkness by being further ensnared in his dreams of gaining Estella:

What with the birthday visitors, and what with the cards, and what with the fight, my stay had lasted so long, that when I neared home the light on the spit of sand off the point on the marshes was gleaming against a black night-sky and Joe's furnace was flinging a path of fire across the road.

Note the way in which the light from Joe's furnace almost seems to be leading Pip back to where he belongs, symbolically representing something significant about his identity and his origins. This example of light imagery in the novel clearly sets up a juxtaposition between the darkness of Pip's great expectations and how they are related to his hopes of winning Estella and how this causes him to forget himself and those that love him.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Pip's return to Satis House in Chapter XI of Great Expectations is again a dark journey through long, damp, dismal passageways lit only by Estella's candle.  He is led through a courtyard to a gloomy room at the back of the house where he is made to wait by the window until he is summoned.  As he glances out the window, Pip looks upon a neglected garden.  He then notices that there are others in the room with him, but he cannot see anything in the room but the fire shining in the window glass.  Later he understands that the people have come because they are relatives of Miss Havisham and this day is her birthday.  After walking her around and listening to the "toadies," Pip plays cards with a haughty and silent Estella, who later lights the way for him through a passageway until she insults him and slaps him. Later, Pip meets a dark, burly man who brusquely speaks to him.  Finally, Estella turns Pip out into the garden where he encounters the pale young gentleman, whom he fights and injures.  After this fight, Estella seems pleased and allows Pip to kiss her.  As he departs Satis House with its dark passageways and toady guests and a dark, mysterious gentleman, Pip remarks,

What with the birthday visitors, and what with the cards, and what with the fight, my stay had lasted so long, that when I neared home the light on the spit of sand off the point on the marshes was gleaming against a black night sky, and Joe's furnace was flinging a path of fire across the road.

It is night as Pip heads towards home, the warm light of Joe's furnace gleams on the marshes, welcoming Pip, symbolizing the love that Pip experiences inside the forge with the warm-hearted Joe.  This image is in sharp contrast to the superciliousness of the Pockets who merely visit Miss Havisham in the hope of receiving some inheritance when she dies.  Joe's beacon of love and light and warmth is in sharp contrast to the dark night which suggests Satis House where only the poor light of Estella's candle pierces the darkness.  Satis House and its rotting garden is a place where no love abounds and Pip is slapped and insulted and finally get to kiss a cheek much like that of a statue.

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