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Great expectations symbolism

Great Expectations: Symbolism

In life, symbolism is present all around us. Whether it is in the clothes we

wear, the things we do, or what we buy, everything has a meaning. Symbolism is

also present in literature and it is shown in Charles Dickens Great Expectations.

The symbols of isolation, manipulation, the tragic hero, and wanting to be

someone else are seen throughout the book through the characters of Estella,

Magwitch, Miss Havisham, and Pip.

The character of Estella represents the symbols of isolation and manipulation.

By acting as an adult when she was still young, she separated herself from Pip

and others. This was due in large part to the way Miss Havisham, her stepmother,

raised her. She had no emotion, as Miss Havisham used her for revenge on men. On

his first visit to the Satis House, Pip overheard Miss Havisham tell Estella

"Well? You can break his heart." [65]. By doing what Miss Havisham tells her to,

she shows she is just as heartless as her stepmother. She also represents

manipulation in how she played with Pip's feelings, who has strong feelings for

her eventhough he also cannot stand her. She tells Pip "Come here! You may kiss

me if you like." [102]. Although the kiss may have meant a lot to Pip, it did

not mean anything to Estella as she was just playing with Pip's emotions.

The character of Magwitch represents the symbols of isolation and the tragic

hero. In this case, he was physically isolated from society because he was a

convict and was looked upon with disgust. When Magwitch confesses and apologizes

to Joe for stealing the food, Joe replies "poor miserable fellow creatur." [43].

Magwitch also illustrates the symbol of the tragic hero. Throughout most of the

book, Magwitch is looked down upon by Pip. Magwitch talks about his gratitude

for Pip when he helped him as a convict many years ago. "You acted noble, my

boy," said he. [356]. "Noble Pip! And I have never forgot it!" [356]. He shows

why he is a hero when he explains to Pip that he was the benefactor and the one

responsible for making him a gentleman and helping him achieve his great

expectations. "Yes, Pip, dear boy, I've made a gentleman on you! It's me wot

done it!" [359-360]. After his death, however, Pip feels guilt and sadness when

he learns what Magwitch spent most of his life trying do. As a result, he shows

the readers why he was the tragic hero.

One character who represents the symbols of isolation and manipulation is Miss

Havisham. For most of her life, she has refused to let go of her past as she

continues to wear her wedding dress and keep her wedding cake. Her decaying

dress and cake are symbols of how her life rotted away. It also depicted the

state of the Satis House, where she was isolated from the rest of society. The

house is used as a metaphor to show how they decayed and crumbled as time passed

on. Miss Havisham also illustrates the symbol of manipulation. She had raised

Estella as a heartless stepdaughter whose main purpose was to seek revenge on

men. This central motivation of revenge resulted from the fact that she was a

rejected lover. Her plan is shown when she tells Estella to go play with Pip.

"Well? You can break his heart." [65]. As a result, she made Estella into a

human monster with no emotion. Near the end, Miss Havisham dies a hopeless


The one character who shows the symbol of how people always want to be someone

else but than decide they are better off with whom they are is Pip, the story's

protagonist. As a boy, Pip wishes to be a gentleman. With unknown help from

Magwitch the convict, Pip's dreams come true. After attaining his fortune and

his expectations, Pip is miserable. "As I had grown accustomed to my

expectations, I had intensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and

those around me." [305]. He noticed the negative effects as he was in debt

because of his lavish spending and he also realized how much he neglected Joe

and Biddy, his two best friends as a kid. In the end, Pip changes as he becomes

a loyal friend to Magwitch in his time of need, tries to repair his relationship

with Joe and Biddy, and goes from almost total destruction to moderate business

success. He also shows how people gain from giving. The only good fortune from

the money he received from his private benefactor, Magwitch, was giving it to


As shown from the examples above, symbolism plays an important part in Charles

Dickens Great Expectations. Many symbols such as isolation, manipulation, the

tragic hero, and wanting to be someone else are present throughout the novel and

are brought to life by the characters. People in today's society must realize

that a lot of what we do symbolizes something about us and helps explain who we

are as people.

Source: Essay UK -

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