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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What are some examples of biblical allusions in Great Expectations?

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There are many wonderful biblical allusions in Great Expectations. For instance, we have Mr. Wopsle's reference to swine being the companion of the prodigal during his stern Christmas lunch lecture, when he accuses Pip of being ungrateful for all the many good things he has in life. Essentially, Mr. Wopsle is accusing poor young Pip of being a greedy pig, putting him in the same company as the Prodigal Son, who in the Bible was forced to work as a swineherd after he frittered away his father's inheritance.

Ironically, there are indeed parallels between Pip and the Prodigal Son, if not with the pigs he was forced to herd. For Pip could be seen as a Prodigal Son figure when he returns home to Joe Gargery after living the high life in London on the money left to him by Abel Magwitch. It's notable that Pip begs forgiveness of Joe for his snobbish behavior in much the same way that the Prodigal Son begged forgiveness of his father for having led such a dissolute lifestyle.

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The character of Joe Gargery could be seen as resembling Joseph, the (earthly) father of Jesus. He, like Joseph, is a quiet, meek, gentle man. He works as a blacksmith, while Joseph worked as a carpenter.

Long before Pip comes into money, Mr. Wopsle chides him for his alleged ingratitude for all the wonderful things he has in life, including his sister's loving care (as if!). In his little finger-wagging rant during Christmas lunch, Wopsle lectures Pip about swine being the companion of the prodigal. Essentially, Wopsle is comparing Pip to a greedy pig, who should be more grateful for what he has and not want more.

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There are many Biblical allusions in Great Expectations.  First of all, there is Abel Magwitch.  He was betrayed by his partner, Compeyson, just as Abel was betrayed by Cain in the Bible.  In the Bible, Cain kills Abel.  By naming Magwitch Abel, it creates a reference back to this betrayal.

There is another Biblical allusion to the story of Adam an Even through a reference to Milton’s Biblical poem “Paradise Lost” from book XII.

The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:

They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,

Through Eden took their solitary way. (enotes etext p. 189)

This is a sign to the reader that Pip is leaving paradise, not entering it.  This is contradictory to Pip’s view of his expectations, and most likely the reader’s as well.  It is foreshadowing that things might not turn out as he expects.

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