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Essay/Term paper: Great expectations: symbolism

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Essays

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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.


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