What is the atmosphere of Jaggers' office in Great Expectations?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 18 of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Pip is introduced to the character of Mr. Jaggers, a gentleman he first spied at the home of Miss Haversham, but about whose purpose he was completely unaware. Pip and Joe are at the Three Jolly Bargeman, a nearby tavern that Joe frequents, when they encounter the church clerk, Mr. Wopsle, who proceeds to pontificate on a legal matter of which he, it turns out, has little actual knowledge. That Wopsle is out of his league discussing a criminal trial becomes apparent when, in the words of Pip, “I became aware of a strange gentleman leaning over the back of the settle opposite me, looking on. There was an expression of contempt on his face, and he bit the side of a great forefinger as he watched the group of faces.” This “strange gentleman,” it will be revealed is Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer who happens to have been the strange figure at Miss Haversham’s. As Pip continues to describe this increasingly tense exchange, he observes that the gentleman is possessed of “an air of authority not to be disputed, and with a manner expressive of knowing something secret about every one of us . . .” Jaggers, it turns out, has an interest in Pip’s welfare his own instincts to the contrary. Jaggers is not only Miss Haversham’s lawyer, he was also the convict Magwitch’s attorney.

Mr. Jagger’s office is a reflection of this austere lawyer’s personality. In Chapter 20, Pip arrives at Jagger’s office per the lawyer’s request/summons, and provides the following description of this small room:

“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. Mr. Jaggers’s own high-backed chair was of deadly black horse-hair, with rows of brass nails round it, like a coffin; and I fancied I could see how he leaned back in it, and bit his forefinger at the clients.”

As Pip’s initial observations regarding Mr. Jaggers in Chapter 18 note, this “strange gentleman” is very serious and very dour, and knows how to intimidate others. His disdain for his mission of providing for the well-being of Pip is typical of this bleak individual’s demeanor, and the fact that his office is “a most dismal place” featuring a chair of “deadly black horse-hair” that resembles a coffin and a scattering of old weaponry and some rather macabre busts of unknown but exceedingly unattractive individuals is consistent with that demeanor.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Jaggers’s room is small, dark and depressing.  It exemplifies his personality by focusing on the macabre.

Jaggers’s room is tiny, very “dismal” and dark.  The only light comes from a skylight.  It is full of “odd objects” rather than papers.  The objects include a pistol, a sword, and casts of disturbing contorted faces.  Jaggers has a “high-backed chair … of deadly black horse-hair” surrounded by rows of brass nails “like a coffin.”  It is so small that clients have to back up against the wall.  The air is hot and exhausted, and full of “dust and grit that lay thick on everything” (ch 20, enotes etext pdf p. 113).

Pip wonders about the way the room is accessorized with grizzly trinkets, and who the faces are.  He thinks they might be relatives.  Pip’s reaction demonstrates his complete lack of understanding of the world he is entering. 

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Great Expectations

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