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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What are some literary devices used in Great Expectations?

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Brillantly written, Charles Dickens's Great Expectations is replete with literary techniques:

1.  parallelism - Notice how the sentences in this paragraph from Chapter 1 are similar in structure:

A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin.

2. imagery In the above passage, there is also much sensory language, or imagery. Imagery of crime and criminal justice pervade the novel. Miss Havisham's house, for example, is like a prison as is Mr. Jaggers dark office.

3. simile In Chapter 3, Pip describes his return to the Battery where he cannot keep his feet warm, comparing the cold to the iron using as,

...the damp cold seemed riveted as the iron was riveted to the leg of the man I was running to meet.

4. metaphor In an unstated comparison, Pip calls Uncle Pumblechook "an abject hypocrite," and "the basest of swindlers" (Ch. 13)

5.doppelgangers, or doubles. Magwitch and Compeyson appear in the novel together several times. Magwitch is of the streets; Compeyson, upper class. In Chapter 3 Pip says

...this man was dressed in coarse gray, too, and had a great iron on his leg, and was lame, and hoarse, and cold, and was everything that the other man was

Likewise, Mrs. Joe and Miss Havisham are two women who are seemingly tied to their houses, they treat Pip cruelly, and become invalids.

6. fairy tale structure Pip begins as a poor boy and is aided by an odd fair godmother who seemingly elevates Pip to status of gentleman.

7. Biblical allusions Pip is a prodigal son, who leaves home, rejecting all that is connected to it.  Once, however, he is financially ruined and desolate, he returns home, begging  forgiveness of his father-figure, Joe Gargery

8. symbols The leg-iron of the convict is alluded to several times, and it symbolizes Pip's feelings of guilt.  For instance, after his sister dies and Pip returns to the forge, the filed off leg-iron of the old convict is found and suspected of being the murder weapon, increasing Pip's feelings of guilt. (Ch.16).

9. satire Chapters 22 and 23 contain descriptions of Mrs. Pocket, a silly woman who aspires to become an aristocrat. She sits engrossed in a book about titles while her children dangerously spill about her:

whenever any of the children strayed near Mrs. Pocket in their play, they always tripped themselves up and tumbled over her—always very much to her momentary astonishment, and their own more enduring lamentation..... until by-and-bye Millers came down with the Baby, which baby was handed to Flopson, which Flopson was handing it to Mrs. Pocket, when she too went fairly head foremost over Mrs. Pocket, baby and all, and was caught by Herbert and myself. (22)

10. comic relief and comic irony The pompous Uncle Pumblechook chokes giving his Christmas speech because Pip put tar water to replace the wine (Ch.4).  In Ch. 23 Dickens describes the Pockets with comic tones while commenting on the pitiable state of Mr. Pocket:

Still, Mrs. Pocket was in general the object of a queer sort of respectful pity, because she had not married a title; while Mr. Pocket was the object of a queer sort of forgiving reproach, because he had never got one.

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What are some examples of figures of speech in a Great Expectations?

This book, like all Dickens books, is full of figures of speech.  There is one in the very beginning of the book:

“I give Pirrip as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone .” (chapter 1)

By saying “on the authority of his tombstone” Pip means that he never knew his father, and can only give that name because it is on his father’s tombstone.  He goes on to say that he does not even have any pictures of his parents or siblings, and doesn’t know what they looked like.  “Pip” is a figure of speech as well, because a pip is short for pippin, which is used to describe something excellent.  Pip is to become excellent, but never quite gets there, making the name symbolic as well.

Another example of a figure of speech in the first chapter is Pip’s sister Mrs. Joe’s saying she raised him “by hand” on her own.  This makes it sound like she took a personal approach in raising him, but it means that she beat him whenever she could.  Pip notes:

“Having at that time to find out for myself what the expression meant, and knowing her to have a hard and heavy hand, and to be much in the habit of laying it upon her husband as well as upon me, I supposed that Joe Gargery and I were both brought up by hand.” (Chapter 2)

Pip goes on to say that he assumes that she made Joe marry her by hand, because he can’t see how she could marry any other way.

When Pip returns from his encounter with Magwitch in Chapter 2, Joe tells him:

“Mrs. Joe has been out a dozen times, looking for you, Pip. And she's out now, making it a baker's dozen.”

This is another figure of speech still common today.  A dozen is twelve, and a baker’s dozen is thirteen.



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What are some examples of figures of speech in a Great Expectations?

One of the most famous repeated figures of speech is the reference to being "brought up by hand," as in Pip's narration from chapter 8 below:

I had cherished a profound conviction that her bringing me up by hand, gave her no right to bring me up by jerks.

This figure of speech means that Mrs. Joe beat Pip anytime he did something wrong so that he would be well-behaved. This is a symbol, as the book continues as abused is repeatedly doled out to Pip by Estella as he gets older, but this is more of a verbal and emotional abuse. Symbols are indeed a type of metaphor, so you could call it either and one phrase "by hand" represents another... abuse. You could also call it a euphemism because the phrase "by hand" is a much gentler term that saying the boy is beaten or hit or abused.

Another sentence from chapter 17 expresses several figures of speech worth analyzing:

So unchanging was the dull old house, the yellow light in the darkened room, the faded spectre in the chair by the dressing-table glass, that I felt as if the stopping of the clocks had stopped time in that mysterious place...

In the italicized portion of this quote describing Miss Havisham's bride room, we have parallel structure or parallelism which is the repetition of the same grammatical form. Each phrase separated by commas begins with the and then an adjective, and a noun, and a prepositional phrase.

In the bold portion, the contents of a simile exist but there is also paradox present in the idea of time stopping. Time is incapable of stopping.

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