How does the writer make the setting help to tell the story, "Great Expectations"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Perhaps the most memorable setting in "Great Expectations" is that of Satis [Enough] House and its occupants, particularly Miss Havisham. As stated above, the setting does, indeed, help describe the character in it. Pip describes his visit:

...the first thing I noticed was that the passages were all dark....

In an armchair...sat the strangest I have ever seen, or shall ever see.  She was dressed in rich materials...all in white (as a bride), but her hair was white....She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one sho on....

But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white had lost its luster, and was faded and yellow.  I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress....the clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine.

'So new to him,' she muttered, 'so old to me; so strange to him, so familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us!'

This dismal setting of a wasted life is lightened by the entrance of Estella, the star as her name means, and Pip's life is changed from thenceforth.  Later, in the setting of the city of London, Pip alters his values, feeling it to be degrading to be associated with the country people, such as Joe, whom he has loved as a father and friend.  Ashamed of Joe's provincial speech and manners, and uncomfortable with Joe around Herbert, his roommate, Pip pushes Joe away from himself.  During his stay in London, Pip assumes airs and loses his sense of true values in his efforts to be a gentleman, a perception of one who has money, education, and speaks in a particular way.

After many life-changing experiences that lead him to realize true values, Pip finally returns to his village and the warmth and love of Joe and Biddy who have married.  In this warmth of Joe's cottage, Joe forgives Pip "if I have anythink to forgive!"  Again the setting of the forge provides valuable love and decency for Pip.


bocateacher322 | Student

The setting helps describe not only the place in which the story takes place but also the character himself. ROOM SETTING: Like Jaggers's office, his home is charmless to say the least. The point is, as Dickens himself says here, that "he seemed to bring the office home with him": He [Jaggers] conducted us [Pip, Herbert, Startop and Drummle] to Gerrard-street, Soho, to a house on the south side of that street. Rather a stately house of its kind, but dolefully in want of painting, and with dirty windows. He took out his key and opened the door, and we all went into a stone hall, bare, gloomy, and little used. So, up a dark brown staircase into a series of three dark brown rooms on the first floor. There were carved garlands on the panelled walls, and as he stood among them giving us welcome, I knew what kind of loops I thought they looked like. OFFICE SETTING: Mr. Jaggers's room was lighted by a skylight only, and was a most dismal place — the skylight, eccentrically pitched like a broken head, and the distorted adjoining houses looking as if they had twisted themselves to peep down at me through it. There were not so many papers about, as I should have expected to see; and there were some odd objects about, that I should not have expected to see — such as an old rusty pistol, a sword in a scabbard, several strange-looking boxes and packages, and two dreadful casts on a shelf, of faces peculiarly swollen, and twitchy about the nose.

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Great Expectations

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