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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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How is Mr. Jaggers's name symbolic in the novel Great Expectations? How is the symbolism in Mr. Jaggers a primary method of characterization?

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Often, authors will use characterization to build the character they are creating.  Symbology in the name is often a tool.   In Great Expectations, Dickens chose the name, Mr. Jaggers, for the lawyer who is an exceptionally brilliant lawyer in picking the cases that he is certain he will win. defines jagger as someone who jags - someone who uses a sharp projection or a barb.   Dickens was using this defintion of jag, jagger and even jagged to show the razor sharpness of this attorney and how he is ruthless in his ability and determination to win.  These are all traits clearly assigned by Dickens to Mr. Jaggers.

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For Charles Dickens, the famous quote of "Romeo and Juliet"--"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"--does not apply. Instead, any other name would not work for many of his characters since these names are symbolic.  That is, the names represent more than the literal nomenclature of a character; the names have figurative meanings as well.

One such example of a character whose silly name indicates his foolish nature is Uncle Pumblechook.  Humorously, Dickens gives this name to the pompous corn merchant, who foolishly wishes to ingratiate himself to Miss Havisham, a once great lady who now is a "sham" of what she did "have."  Estella, whose name means "star" is perceived as an almost ethereal being of great beauty by the naive Pip.  Of course, the figurative irony of her name is later revealed.

Mr. Jaggers, then, is a character whose name has meaning that extends beyond the identity of his person.  For, as Pip describes him in Chapter 18,

The strange gentleman, with an air of authority not to be disputed, and a manner expressive of knowing something secret about every one of us....

That he is jaggedly waivering the right side of the law is evident in his somewhat unethical behavior.  In his dark, doleful, and dismal house, he proudly displays the wrists of his housekeeper, boasting of her strength without revealing the history of this woman who has killed another with such wrists.  And, when Pip confronts Mr. Jaggers about having deceived him into believing that Miss Havisham has been his benefactor, Jaggers responds,

I am the mere agent.  I execute my instructions, and I am paid for doing so.  I think them injudicious, but I am not paid for giving any opinion on their merits.

This statement by Jaggers exemplifies his personality and is indicative of the opinion Charles Dickens had for legal systerm which worked for the wealthy and against the poor in England.  And, so, the name "Jaggers" indicates the blurred lines of justice and the cold calculator of financial gain who often keeps criminals out of prison through his legal acumen.  That Jaggers is not an ethical man is also portrayed in his appreciation of the evil Bentley Drummle, who represents to Jaggers the shrewd and ruthless qualities necessary to advancement in society.

Symbolic of the unscrupulous lawyer, Mr. Jaggers and his name further the development of Dicken's theme of the legal inequities and corruption in Victorian England.


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