Dickens liberally employs the pathetic fallacy throughout Great Expectation, particularly in the form of weather. The weather often serves to emphasize and magnify Pip's emotional states, unconscious sentiments, and gut feelings. At the same time, the weather also foreshadows momentous changes in Pip's life. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 39, Pip wonders why “not another word" has yet enlightened him “on the subject of [his] expectations" (314). Soon after the mention of his expectations — and immediately before Magwitch's arrival — Pip comments on the “wretched weather," which was

stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and 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. So furious had been the gusts, that high buildings in town had had the lead stripped off their roofs; and in the country, trees had been torn up, and sails of windmills carried away; and gloomy accounts had come in from the coast, of shipwreck and death. Violent blasts of rain had accompanied these rages of wind, and the day just closed as I sat down to read had been the worst of all.

This grim depiction of the weather foreshadows and parallels Pip's imminent dismay. Just as the furious winds leave a path of destruction through London, so does Magwitch's revelation leave a path of destruction through Pip's dreams and goals. The weather serves as both foreshadowing and pathetic fallacy in this case. Towards the end of the novel, Pip's descriptions of the changing weather reflect his changing outlook on life. No longer are the skies dreary and forbidding. Instead, the fog rises and the sun returns to shine on Pip's life. In Chapter 58, while cheering himself with thoughts of seeing Biddy again, Pip mentions that

The June weather was delicious. The sky was blue, the larks were soaring high over the green corn, I thought all that countryside more beautiful and peaceful by far than I had ever known it to be yet. Many pleasant pictures of the life that I would lead there, and of the change for the better that would come over my character when I had a guiding spirit at my side whose simple faith and clear home wisdom I had proved, beguiled my way. They awakened a tender emotion in me; for my heart was softened by my return, and such a change had come to pass, that I felt like one who was toiling home barefoot from distant travel, and whose wanderings had lasted many years.

The weather yet again serves as an indicator of Pip's inner world.

Questions

1. In the first passage, how does Dickens use repetition to convey Pip's emotional state? Why would he choose to repeat certain words in this manner?

2. In the first passage, why does Pip mention “shipwreck and death?" What effect does it have upon the tone of the remaining chapter? How do these two themes manifest themselves later in the novel?

3. Pip sheds his gentleman's life in the city — which only brought him grief — and returns to the bucolic setting of his hometown. However, throughout the novel, Pip finds faults in both the city and the countryside. What exactly is Dickens trying to say about city life, country life, and social mobility during the Victorian era?

4. In the second passage, Pip describes himself as one who was “toiling home barefoot from distant travel. . . whose wanderings had lasted many years." Why does Pip use this analogy? How does the analogy contribute to the novel as a bildungsroman?

5. In Jane Eyre, Brontë employs weather as pathetic fallacy as well. Just as Dickens introduced the story in grim weather, so does Bronte start off her novel with forbidding skies.

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wandering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when there was no company, dined early) the cold winter wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

Why do both Dickens and Brontë choose to begin their novels with a depiction of foul weather? How does this set the tone of both novels? How does the usage of weather compare and contrast in both novels?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 18 February 2008