What symbols are used for social class and dreams?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Much like other authors, Charles Dickens employs symbols to magnify and broaden his expression of certain concepts and ideas. In the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, Dickens was concerned with the false values and the class consciousness of Victorian England, and he used symbols to express such concepts.

Satis House- Representative of the romantic perception of the upper class, Satis House also is symbolic of the Victorian Age's connection of commerce and industry with wealth as the brewery is what financed this house.  On the other hand,

the dilapidated stone, darkness, dust, and decay are symbolic of the decadence of the lives of the frivolous upper class.

the jewels of Miss Havisham represent the wealth that brings a false adulation from the rising middle class that aspires to wealth as a measure of worth.

money and wealth represent the falsity of the value assigned people.  The "greatest of swindlers," as Pip calls him, Uncle Pumblechook especially exemplifies this concept as he congratulates Pip on "the joy of money" after Pip receives news of his "great expectations." Later, he boasts that he is the one who has been influential in the making of Pip as a gentleman when heretofore he berated or ignored Pip as a child.

Bentley Drummle  is a brute, but is valued as a suitor for Estella.  This character is symbolic of the arbitrary nature of class distinctions.

the mists on the marshes are symbolic of Pip's confusion and ambiguity as well as danger.  Certainly, this symbol, too, creates an atmosphere and tone for certain passages.

Newgate prison is symbolic of the social prison in which Magwitch and his lower class live.  Great Expectations is clearly an indictment against the corrupt judicial system of England in which there is a "justice" for the upperclass such as Compeyson and another "justice" for the poor as respresented by Magwitch. Mr. Jaggers will not defend anyone who does not first produce money for the lawyer.

the leg-iron of the convict  represents guilt.  In an early chapter, Pip narrates that on the next morning after his theft of food for the convict the damp of the marsh

cold seemed riveted as the iron was riveted to the leg of the man.

In his guilt throughout the novel, Pip feels that he wears a leg-iron himself.  For, time and time again Pip's guilt regarding Joe and others is recalled by his encountering convicts on the marshes or in Newgate prison or the reappearance of Magwitch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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