Great Expectations


Charles Dickens

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Great Expectations makes teaching easy.

Great Expectations: Foreshadowing 4 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Book 1, Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Like A Dog :

Dickens compares both Pip and Provis to dogs several times in Great Expectations. This simile is used to explain a difference in power between characters, and also to indicate animalistic or uncivilized actions in the "dog"-like figure. In. Chapter 3, when Pip brings Provis food and drink as he hides in the marshes, he compares the convict directly to an animal he knows:

I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating, and the man’s. The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger in every direction [...] he was very like the dog.

Provis has reverted to an animal-like state after his escape from the prison-barge, as he snaps and bites at his provisions. Pip is frightened, but he also feels sympathy for Provis as he would for a hungry dog. The sense of desperation Provis feels is amplified by the frantic language Dickens uses here; Provis doesn't eat, he "swallows" his food "too soon and too fast." 

When the simile of the dog occurs in Great Expectations it always indicates a difference in status. This is true between Pip and Provis above, but also between Pip and Estella when she treats him "like a dog in disgrace." She makes him follow her like a dog and treats him as subhuman until much later in the novel. When Provis first meets Pip he calls him a "young dog" and a "fierce young hound," foreshadowing their later connection. Finally, when Provis reveals that it is himself and not Miss Havisham who is Pip's patron, he refers again to this simile, calling himself an "old dunghill dog." The human-and-dog relationship in literature is a classic trope of superior and subordinate, and Dickens uses it as shorthand here to indicate unequal relationships and social standings.

Explanation and Analysis—A Little Goblin Crying :

In the early part of the novel when Pip is still a young boy, Dickens uses a fairytale-esque simile to describe Pip's surrounding environment. Looking out of his windows on the morning he must bring "wattles" to the escaped convict Provis in Chapter 3, a guilt-stricken Pip observes that

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.

The image of a goblin crying and wiping its nose on the window evokes similar sensations that thinking of a damp, boggy marshland might: wetness, sliminess, mucus. Dickens repeatedly uses the word "damp" in this passage, first as a description of the morning's weather, and then as a discrete object "lying on the outside" of his window. Even from the relative warmth and safety of his bedroom, the "damp" is a goblin, a thing on the windowsill, and a condition of the day itself. The sense of discomfort evoked here also applies to Pip's internal feelings, as he worries about stealing and about helping a known criminal.

As a boy, Pip is very superstitious and scared of the supernatural. The fact that he sees the damp window as being like a visitation by a goblin foreshadows his fear of both the marshes themselves and of Provis. He has been told he must bring food and a metal file to the convict on pain of death, which seems like a more realistic threat than a goblin. Even given this, he almost doesn't leave the house because the misty, soggy world outside seems too much to bear.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Book 1, Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Waxwork and Skeleton:

In Chapter 8, Dickens uses two similar and layered metaphors of death and entombment to stress the impact of Miss Havisham's ghastly appearance. Pip, on seeing her for the first time, says:

Once I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me.

The diction of this passage is unusually stilted for Dickens. By directly contrasting two uncanny experiences almost in the same breath, the author implies that Pip is having two almost simultaneous flashes of memory. These come together as his eyes try to interpret what is in front of them, as the scene is so bizarre. 

Dickens indicates that Havisham is both waxwork and skeleton, at once alive and dead, through this use of language. He foreshadows the extraordinary story of her ill-fated wedding day and the living death she consigns herself to. It is not exactly a flattering description of a living person that Dickens gives the reader here: what Pip is seeing is a lonely old crone, but what he describes are the "ashes of a rich dress" hanging from the false flesh of a "ghastly waxwork." 

Pip also says "once" twice, indicating through repetition that the experience before him exceeds both previous nasty occasions. Right from the beginning of their acquaintance, Havisham is associated with the language of burial alive—the "vault under the pavement"—and of living death, as her startling eyes "move and look" at Pip in an otherwise skeletal face.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Book 1, Chapter 15
Explanation and Analysis—Orlick the Villain:

Joe Gargery's "obstinate" journeyman Orlick is revealed to be a violent villain long after he is first introduced. Dickens foreshadows this, however, with two allusions. In Chapter 15, Pip describes the "lazy" and unpleasant Orlick with reference to two famous "outcast" figures, rejected from society because of their hand in the deaths of good people:

He never even seemed to come to his work on purpose, but would slouch in as if by mere accident; and when he went to the Jolly Bargemen to eat his dinner, or went away at night, he would slouch out, like Cain or the Wandering Jew, as if he had no idea where he was going and no intention of ever coming back.

To give a bit of context, Cain and the "Wandering Jew" are related mythological figures. Both appear in ancient stories where they betray and hurt innocent people. Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve, two of the first humans in the Bible. Cain kills his brother violently out of envy and is subsequently marked by God and forced to wander in exile and disgrace.

The Wandering Jew is another mythological character who lives in constant banishment. He is supposed to be one of the Jews who allegedly taunted Jesus on the way to the crucifixion. Because of this great offense, he was cursed with immortality and made to wander the earth alone until the eventual second coming of Christ. Both characters are cautionary tales about the perils of rashness and cruelty, and both have been used in racist, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant commentary since the medieval period. 

Orlick is compared to both of these people because of his actions, his behavior, and his overall unnerving demeanor. He eventually attempts to kill Mrs Joe out of spite and ends up permanently disabling her. He then tries to murder Pip himself out of jealousy. Like both Cain and the stereotypically antisemitic character of the Wandering Jew, Orlick is made homeless by his poor choices. He is also, like these characters, described as being physically ugly, frightening, and conniving. Just after this passage, the narrator tells their audience that 

He always slouched, locomotively, with his eyes on the ground, but when accosted or otherwise required to raise them, he looked up in a half resentful, half puzzled way, as though the only thought he ever had, was, that it was rather an odd and injurious fact that he should never be thinking.

Like Cain and the Wandering Jew, whose physical descriptions are often very unappealing, Dickens foreshadows Orlick's brutal assaults with diction and sensory language that make him frightening before he's even committed a crime. In this and the previous passage, he is always hunched and "slouching," a purposeless man in a novel full of people with ambition and vocations.

Unlock with LitCharts A+