Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Symbols


In Great Expectations Charles Dickens uses three major symbols: Tears, Satis House, and Money. Dickens also relates these symbols to the major themes. For example, the symbol of money relates to social class and ambition because it deals with how members of various classes use money.


Dickens uses tears to represent passionate emotions, including gratefulness, love, and shame. However, all expressed tears have a benevolent, clarifying effect. Pip states, "I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle." After Pip cries tears of shame from Estella's insults, he is able to continue his daily life. When Pip cries tears of remorse about his treatment of Joe, he can more fully sense how wrongly he treated his friend. The only tears that do not have a positive effect are the crocodile tears shed by Mrs. Camilla, because they represent false emotions.

Satis House

For Dickens, Satis House represents a lack of growth or death. Miss Havisham's hateful and bitter attitude creates a structure in which time seems to stand still. Nothing significant changes in Satis House. The clocks are all stopped at the same time. The furniture remains in the same position without being dusted for years. The wedding cake remains on the table, covered by cobwebs. In this house Miss Havisham follows the same routines, year after year. With Satis House, Miss Havisham has created her own mausoleum that will house her corpse. Satis is Latin for "enough." The title could be ironic. Estella suggests the term Satis implies that a person who owns this house has enough of everything. However, Miss Havisham's life is totally barren. She is a person who feels the pain of not having enough love. Indeed she does not have enough of anything, except money and bitterness, which prove to be inadequate. Also, Satis resembles the word static.


Money, for Dickens, has a dual meaning. Money represents the value that society places on someone. When Miss Havisham pays Joe 25 pounds for Pip's services, she is using money to place a value on Pip. Also when the shopkeepers find out that Pip has come into money, their estimation of Pip soars.

The author also uses money to represent power or control over people. For example, Miss Havisham uses money to make Estella do exactly what the recluse wants in London. Estella tells Pip, "This is my purse, and you are to pay my charges out of it ... We are not free to follow our own devices, you and I." Also Magwitch uses money to control Pip and make him into what Magwitch wants, namely a gentleman. Magwitch tells Pip, "Yes, Pip, dear boy, I've made a gentleman on you! It's me wot has done it!" Miss Havisham's and Magwitch's use of money to control people backfires however. Estella becomes cold toward Miss Havisham. Pip becomes miserable as a gentleman but doesn't tell this to Magwitch. Pip states, "O, that he [Magwitch] had never come! That he had left me at the forge—far from contented, yet, by comparison, happy!"

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