Great Expectations Style, Form, and Literary Elements
by Charles Dickens

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

River Thames

River Thames (tehmz) is a river in southern England that runs through London to the North Sea. Several places that figure in the novel stand along the river. Some eight miles to the west of London lies Richmond, on the river’s south bank, a stylish town in Surrey. After her “finishing school,” Estella comes to live here in Mrs. Brandley’s house on Richmond Green, to be introduced into fashionable London society, to continue to break men’s hearts. It is thus an extension of Satis House as a locus for Miss Havisham’s revenge.

Hammersmith

Hammersmith is a town on the northern bank of the Thames, west of London. There the Pockets have a small riverside house, in which Pip is tutored together with Bentley Drummle and Startopp.

The Temple

The Temple is a central London district in which Pip and Herbert take rooms overlooking the river. Although this place symbolizes the pretentiousness of Pip’s life of expectations, it also marks the point where he enables Magwitch to escape, thereby bringing his false expectations to an end.

Chinks Basin

Chinks Basin is a district in London, downriver from the Temple, in the dock area below London Bridge, where Magwitch is secreted at the home of the father of Clara, Herbert’s girlfriend, at Mill Pond Bank.

Marshes

The marshes are a region along the lower reaches of the River Thames in which Pip grows up. The region is featured ambiguously as a place of childhood innocence and adult menace. Here Pip’s life is threatened by Magwitch and then Orlick; however, it is also where the warmth of Joe Gargery’s forge lies. Dickens seems to collapse notions of innocence, safety, and corruption at the same time he extends motifs of imprisonment and entrapment in the symbolic Hulks, dismasted naval ships used as floating prisons near the marshes. Ironically, the Thames reaches from the pretensions of Estella Havisham in the west to the sordid reality of her paternal origin in the east. The novel refocuses these two places by seeing the river’s flow, not as time, but as inevitable moral process. Estella and Pip’s frequent coach journeys from one end of this space to the other are like the shuttle of a web, broken only by the last thwarted journey downriver of Magwitch, where full revelation of the moral failures of the past is made.

Satis House

Satis House is the decaying mansion home of Miss Havisham, standing along the edge of an unnamed town next to the marshes. Within its grounds once stood a brewery, which was the source of Miss Havisham’s inherited wealth. While satis is the Latin word for “enough,” within this novel the name represents the opposite: unfulfilled desire and expectation. Within the Satis House, Estella is raised to use her charms to entrap men. In the end, everyone in the house is entrapped, and Miss Havisham is burned to death purgatorially. Finally, the contents are auctioned off and the house sold as scrap, again symbolically signifying the end of all the unreal expectations of Pip and Estella.

London

London is Great Britain’s capital city, a different version of which Dickens presents in each of his novels. In Great Expectations, the reality of London is particularly symbolized by Newgate Prison, a notorious institution in which violent prisoners were kept along with those awaiting execution. Dickens made a close study of prison conditions, perhaps because of his own parents’ imprisonment for debt. Here, the nearness of Jaggers’s chambers in Little Britain to the prison symbolizes how near criminality is to the sinister order of the law as practiced by so-called respectable practitioners such as Jaggers.

Jaggers himself lives in Soho, a mile to the west of Newgate; his clerk, Wemmick, lives in Walworth. In the early nineteenth century this was a disorganized northern suburb of London. His small wooden house is built like a miniature castle, with a moat and drawbridge round it, symbolizing his attempts to cut himself off from the sordid legal activities he...

(The entire section is 6,823 words.)