Great Expectations

Food and Society in Great Expectations 12th Grade

‘Eating and drinking are valued by Dickens as proofs of sociability and ceremonies of love.’ Discuss the significance of food and meals in the novel Great Expectations.

Throughout the novel Great Expectations, numerous meals which have symbolic resonance repeatedly take place. This essay will argue that the meal in the novel is a recurring motif with three primary functions. Firstly, they are indeed ceremonies of love or dark manifestations of the absence of love. Next, the motif of the meal also symbolizes power, which is achieved through social relations. Finally, the meal is a rite of passage which marks new beginnings, or milestones in the life of Dickens’ characters.

Meals and food are indeed ‘ceremonies of love.’ When it functions as a ceremony of love, the meal motif comes to represent the extension of grace to those who do not deserve it. This is evident in the meal Pip brings for the escaped convict Magwitch. Despite Magwitch never asking for it, Pip presents him with a ‘beautiful round compact pork pie’ stolen from Mrs. Joe’s pantry, which becomes the centrepieve of the meal. This pie is far more than what Magwitch had demanded for his basic sustenance, and thus is a symbol of grace or the extension of undeserved...

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