Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens utilizes the description of nature and weather in order to set a tone of oppression that often characterizes Pip's experiences. This first passage occurs in the beginning of the book when Pip is on the way, under severe threat, to provide food for the convict:

It was a rimy morning, and very damp. I had seen the damp lying on the outside of my little window, as if some goblin had been crying there all night, and using the window for a pocket handkerchief. Now, I saw the damp lying on the bare hedges and spare grass, like a coarser sort of spiders' webs; hanging itself from twig to twig and blade to blad. On every rail and gate, wet lay clammy; and the marsh-mist was so thick, that the wooden finger on the post directing people to our village, for they never came here--adirection which they never accepted--was invisible to me until I was quite close under it. Then as I looked up at it, while it dripped, it seemed to my oppressed conscience like a phantom devoting me to the hulks.

The exchange between Pip and the convict is the underlying force of the novel. Magwitch becomes forever indebted to the young Pip and pays him back by providing him with “great expectations." While Magwitch's resources enable Pip to rise to the social station that he had dreamed of since encountering Estella, his newfound status is accompanied by a sense of entrapment. Pip not only falls quickly into debt once he as a gentleman, and thus becomes entangled financially, but he also struggles with his own sense of guilt for deserting Joe and Biddy. Even before Pip can possibly conceive that he will one day have “great expectations," Dickens uses ominous description of weather to foreshadow Pip's future.

A similar use of weather description as foreshadowing occurs just prior to when Magwitch appears and reveals that he is Pip's benefactor:

It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the east, and it drove still, as if in the east there were an eternity of cloud and wind. [Charles Dickens, Great Expectations, 292]

Once aware that his patron is an escaped criminal, Pip becomes conscious of the hard realities of his “expectations." He believes himself now forever bound to what he thinks the lowest of society.

Both passages utilize repetition of certain words, such as “mud," “stormy" and “wet," to create a mood of gloominess. London, soaked and enshrouded by the weather, heavy and distorting, recalls Pip's village on the fateful day when he binds himself to his convict. In addition, each passage precedes an encounter with Magwitch. Another part of the novel that pertains to this particular theme in Great expectations appears in Pip's final association with Orlick, when Orlick takes Pip hostage with the intent to kill him. Pip's natural surroundings at that moment are such that “a stranger would have found them insupportable, and even to me they were so oppressive that I hesitated, half-inclined to go back" (Great Expectations, 392). Pip does not go back, and as a result Orlick captures him.

This motif in Great Expectations hints at the rigid class structure of Victorian England. The sense of entrapment that precedes Pip's encounters with Magwitch stems from the fact that Magwitch produces Pip's source of increased social status. As a result of Magwitch's generosity, Pip becomes a so-called gentleman. He does not work and can not perform any specific job or have a certain career due to his gentleman's education. As Victorian England was increasingly capitalistic, placing greater value on the ability to gain more capital, it seems as though the gentleman would become increasingly obsolete. To succeed in a capitalistic society, it is necessary to have a means through which to make money, in other words, a job. The oppressive quality of Pip's situation derives from the fact that he is thrown into London, a center of capitalism, with apparently no ability to do anything valued by that society. At the end of the novel, Pip becomes a clerk for Herbert Pocket's company. This new station in his life coincides with a time of true happiness, having been reconciled with Joe and Biddy and more or less freed from the binding life he tried to lead in London.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 1996