The Leg-Iron symbolizes justice. Most literally, the convicts' leg-irons physically constrain them within the terms of their court-decreed prison sentences. Yet Pip also compares the damp cold of the marshes to a leg-iron in Chapter 2, foreshadowing the sense of constraint he will feel in the village as he ages. For much of the novel, Pip treats the village and its working class lifestyle like a prison he tries his best to escape. The leg-iron becomes a symbol of perverse justice when used as a weapon, as when Orlick uses it to strike Mrs. Joe brutally on the head, exacting his horrifically overblown revenge.
The Leg-Iron Symbol Timeline in Great Expectations
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Leg-Iron appears in Great Expectations. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 1
...and siblings are buried. Suddenly a terrifying man, dressed in rags and shackled in a leg-iron, jumps out from a hiding spot behind a grave and grabs Pip. When the man... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 3
...while he stands still. He compares the damp cold "riveted" to his feet with the iron "riveted" to the convict's leg. (full context)
...Pip to describe the young man he saw further. Pip tries to describe that man's leg-iron without saying the word itself, thinking it might be offensive. He describes a bruise on... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 16
...steal anything, instead just blowing out the candle and striking her, leaving a convict's filed-off leg-iron beside her. The leg-iron does not belong to either of the recently escaped convicts and... (full context)