Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What are some symbols in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

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Certainly the rotting bridal cake of Miss Havisham and her yellowed wedding dress are symbolic of the wasted life of a once beautiful woman who was abandoned by her fiancee on her wedding day.  Since this day, Miss Havisham "knows nothing of the days of the week or the months of the year."  Time has stood still; she has all her clocks stopped at fifteen minutes until the hour of the wedding that did not occur many, many years ago.  It is, indeed, ironic that Miss Havisham's wedding dress, rotting cake, stopped clocks, and darkened rooms become symbolic of death and devastation.

The name of her mansion is also symbolic: Satis House.  The irony of this name cannot be missed by readers as they perceive the unhappy lives within:  an old woman who seeks revenge upon the male population as she raises a beautiful young woman to be heartless and cruel to men.  She instructs Estella, "You can break their [men's] hearts.  The old brewery next to the mansion symbolizes the connection between wealth/social status and commercial business.  The dilapidated condition of the house parallels the decadence of the upper class.  The degenerate Bentley Drummle also represents this lack of moral character in many upper class members of London's society.

Other symbols include the leg-irons of the criminal Magwitch, who is a victim of an unjust social system that condemns the poor over perpetrators of the upper class.  Newgate Prison and its death masks also symbolizes the "prison" of London's social caste system and unjust laws.

On the other hand, the Forge symbolizes warmth and love for Pip, who initially rejects it as "common" in his desire for wealth and status as a gentleman.

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