What is the significance of the hand motif in Great Expectations?

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Dickens uses the hand motif throughout Great Expectations as a way of indicating character. We're told, for instance, that Pip has been brought up "by hand," by a sister with a "hard and heavy hand." Then we have Estella's rude description of Pip's hands as "coarse," as those of a...

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Dickens uses the hand motif throughout Great Expectations as a way of indicating character. We're told, for instance, that Pip has been brought up "by hand," by a sister with a "hard and heavy hand." Then we have Estella's rude description of Pip's hands as "coarse," as those of a "common laboring boy". Pip, who so desperately wants to impress Estella, bemoans the fact that he has such rough hands. They clearly mark him out as one of the lower orders, when what he really wants most of all is to become a gentleman.

As for Estella, she of course uses her hand to slap poor young Pip, indicating just what an unpleasant character she can be. Later on, we will see another unpleasant character, Mr. Jaggers, symbolically washing his hands several times a day as a way of ridding himself of the moral filth and corruption with which he comes into contact on a daily basis as part of his work as a lawyer. This shows us how Jaggers distances himself from his surroundings and the people he's supposed to be working for. It comes as no surprise to find out how selfish and uncaring he can be.

Herbert Pocket uses his hands in engaging with Pip in a boxing bout. But it's a sign of how gentle and harmless he is that he proves himself so utterly useless at fighting. Herbert's a nice guy, not built for hitting people.

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