Sharon Verhoef, 1A Literature 1B The Symbolic Importance of Fire in Great Expectations Fire as a symbol can stand for a lot of different things. It represents warmth, understanding, desire and destruction. In Great Expectations fire is used repeatedly. In this novel fire plays a big role in making the reader understand more about the characters and the story. In the beginning of the novel fire is displayed as something warm and good. You can ask yourself the question “How can fire be essential to everyday life? ”. Fire is necessary to make food and heat. Joe, being a blacksmith, uses fire to forge tools and fix wagons.
At the same time it stands for Joe’s own warmth and kindheartedness. In the evenings Joe relaxes in front of the fire which seems to give him some sort of comfort. In Pip’s case the fire may stand for desire and his unrequited love. He keeps seeing Estella’s face in the fire when he works as an apprentice to Joe. In chapter 36, when Jaggers needs to advise Pip about his allowance in London because he had been reckless with it, Jaggers gets up and stirs the fire, just like Joe used to do before advising Pip when he was still a young boy. This might indicate that Jaggers is actually a bit Pip’s caretaker in a way.
Warmth and kindness are not the only things that fire represents in this book however. The place where fire symbolism is used the most in the entire book is at the dark and eerie Satis House. The fire in the hearth does not seem to ever give off any warmth, just like Miss Havisham is cold and heartless. Fire can begin and end things. Fire can also stand for cleansing, getting rid of sin and start anew, but it can also destroy. Now for the question “How can fire be destructive? ”. In chapter 49, a very important chapter in the novel, the answer comes forward.
Pip goes to Satis House to talk to Miss Havisham, whom he finds sitting in front of the hearth staring into the fire, seemingly deep in thought. Miss Havisham asks Pip what she can do for him and she eventually writes instructions to Mr. Jaggers. Miss Havisham wants Pip to write “I forgive you” on that same note. After a while Pip leaves but has a bad feeling and turns back to check on Miss Havisham. A little piece of coal from the fire falls out of the fireplace and sets her wedding gown on fire. Pip tries to save her by throwing cloaks over her as well as the great tablecloth to put out the flames, but she shrieks and tries to free herself.
Miss Havisham sees the fire as the cleanser of her vanities and therefore does not want to be saved. The fire also burns Pips hands very badly. In this case the fire can be seen as small sins that will become bigger as we get older and eventually, if they are not taken care of, will turn into forces that can destroy us. To conclude, the fire symbolism in Great Expectations is not only one of the keys to understanding the story and the characters of the book, but it also teaches us about great kindness and warns us about the sins humans can commit and later regret terribly. 551 words