Symbolism in the Evolution of Pip in “Great Expectations”

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Great Expectations has a greater arch on redemption and the importance of being a modern gentleman. To get into the meat of that, Dickens has littered his novel with symbolism and pathetic fallacy sugaring the events along the way that shape Pip into the man he is trying to become. Picking through some of the most prominent symbols of this novel we will shed light on the growth of Pip through symbolism that Dickens cast into shadow. When we first encounter Pip, he’s in the marshes brooding over his parent’s tombstones wondering what kind of people they could have been.

The misty marshes near Pip’s childhood home, one of the most suggestive settings of the book. The marshes are used several times to symbolize crisis and change. Each time Pip happens to be here his life is in danger, first with the convict, “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!” (Dickens 3) And then with Orlick, who kidnaps him and attempts to murder him there. It just so happens that whenever Pip travels to London, he must pass through the mists. This emergence from the marshes, and re-entering suggests that this change in his life could be met with some dangerous consequences. Dickens also uses the mists as a symbol for clarity of thinking. “Once more, the mists were rising as I walked away.

If they disclosed to me, as I suspect they did, that I should not come back, and that Biddy was quite right, all I can say is – they were quite right too.” (Dickens 507) At this time Pip almost uses the mists as a fortune teller would her ball, they reveal the truth rather than shield them in an opaque haze. The mists call Pip back home, they set the mood and remind him that he will never escape being that laboring boy he once was. It’s with the rising of the mists that concludes the novel, making a fresh start as Pip and Estella leave their bench. “…in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.” (Dicken 865)

Another symbol is a person, Bentley Drummle, Pip’s lifelong nemesis. “He was idle, proud, niggardly, reserved, and suspicious.” (Dickens 359) He’s arrogant, rich and abrasive, and eventually dies abusing a horse. He is not missed at all, however, his life and figure in Pip’s arch shape how Pip sees himself. Drummle is the poster boy for wealth, success and Victorian gentleman status. He fights for Estella, to turn around and abuse her, all the while being rude and cruel to anyone that he thinks is beneath him. “Drummle laughed outright, and sat laughing in our faces, with his hands in his pockets and his round shoulders raised: plainly signifying that it was quite true, and that he despised us, as asses all. (Dickens 382)

It’s the contrasting figures of Drummle and Pip that we can see how Dicken’s painted a true gentleman and the one that is ‘for show.’ Dicken’s uses Pip’s innocence, morality and integrity to show that there is no correlation between morals and intelligence and social standing. Even though he is a minor character, Drummle is pivotal enough to show the arbitrary nature of the class distinctions. Pip has connected his ideas of educational, moral, and social advancement so that each depends on the others. The vulgar and brutal, Drummle, a member of the upper class, gives Pip some proof that social advancement has no intrinsic relationship to intelligence or moral worth.

Pip’s friend and brother-in-law, Joe is a good man, kind and honest who works hard despite how little he earns; while Drummle is a boor who has inherited his immense wealth. The negative example of Drummle helps Pip to see the inner worth of people like Joe and Magwitch. This leads him to disregard his immature reveries about wealth and class in favor of a more mature understanding of society and the world as a whole. It is both realistic and more compassionate, they align better with the nature that Dicken’s has given us of Pip all through the novel. Estella is the next character with symbols prominent to her force in Pip’s life. Estella represents isolation and manipulation. Pip meets Estella, who acts like an adult even though they are the same age, calling him boy and treating him in a manner as if he were less than her.

“Though she called me ‘boy’ so often, and with a carelessness that was far from complimentary, she was of about my own age.” (Dickens 98) She separates herself from Pip and the other children, but this is due to the influence of her stepmother, Miss. Havisham, who raised her. Miss. Havisham uses and manipulates Estella’s emotions to further her gains, revenge on men. “Well? You can break his heart.” (Dickens 104) Miss. Havisham tells Estella, and she does as she is told, having no other mother figure to look up to and because of the influence, she has upon Estella.

As she grows up, she begins to toy with Pip’s feelings who has fallen hard for her. She represents the ultimate beauty, femininty and a woman of a high class to him. Even though he cannot stand her, he allows her to treat him as she wishes. “‘Come here! You may kiss me, if you like.” (Dickens 162) Estella says to Pip, even though as Pip remarks she treats the kiss as if it were “ piece of money might have been, and that it was worth nothing.” (Dickens 163) To Pip, Estella is just like the star she is named for, in isolation, far out of his reach and something beautiful and wanted but impossible to get. Estella is manipulative, cold and cynical; however, she represents Pip’s first idea for his longed life among the upper classes.

The gag is that Pip later learns that Estella is lower-born that himself, she is the daughter of Magwitch, the coarse convict, and therefore apart of the lowest rung of society. It’s through Estella that Pip learns to look at his struggle and begin to rely on himself, and those that spare genuine kindness to him. It’s finally at the end of the book that they have learned through each other, and we see a kinder side of Estella that she says to Pip, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching. . . . I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.” (Dickens 865) The final pieces to explore are the Satis House and dark and light. There are elements of both inside the Satis House and sprinkled through the novel.

Satis comes from the Latin word meaning ‘enough,’ but it isn’t enough for Miss. Havisham. Dickens creates a luxurious Gothic setting where the elements inside symbolize Pip’s romantic discernment of the upper class. Pip describes the house as having a heavy darkness about it. “In the heavy air of the room, and the heavy darkness that brooded in its remoter corners,” (Dickens 157) Pip finds himself thinking that he too will begin to decay away like Miss. Havisham. The stopped clocks in the house symbolize Miss. Havisham’s determination to freeze time and her refusal to change anything in the house. There is a brewery next door that symbolizes the connection between commerce and wealth: Miss. Havisham herself only became wealthy because of her success in the booming industrial capitalism and not from aristocratic birth.

In this age, she is at the top of society because of this but cut from a different cloth that still labels her as an outsider to those born wealthy. It is in this light that Pip learns the difference between the two and realizes that he will not be able to attain the status he so wants. He wasn’t born that way, so he cannot enter that world. The crumbling stone and decayed appearance of the house symbolize a harsh lesson that Pip comes to learn about the upper class, they lack moral stability. The famous archetype of light and dark shows itself not only in the house but the people and things in Pip’s life. It’s not always a side of good and bad. Estella’s candles don’t do much to light up the dark space, “faintly troubled its darkness,” (Dickens 147)

Pip says as he travels about the house. On the night that Magwitch comes to the town, Pip sees some lights outside his window, the lamps in the city were shaking from a storm signaling the approach of trouble. There are real lights in Pip’s life, one of them being Joe. He guides Pip along the way as a symbol of ultimate caring and good in Pip’s world of deceit and malice. Even after he is tossed aside, he continues to be the light, an angel, in Pip’s life trying to shed some positivity on the situation. Pip’s adventure and emergence into the man he becomes by the end of the novel are based upon who he encounters, and what changes him as he goes through his life.

The harsh treatment at the hands of such figures such as Orlick and the convict in the marshes. The weather though bleak never kept him from keeping his head up though, “It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets.” (Dickens 558) Pip manages to take advantage of his situations, and learn to lean on those who exemplify the traits he had been looking for in the wrong place. The symbols that teach Pip through their foreshadowing are what guide him along the way to becoming the man that he always wanted to be.


Cite this paper

Symbolism in the Evolution of Pip in “Great Expectations”. (2021, Oct 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/symbolism-in-the-evolution-of-pip-in-great-expectations/

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