Dickens uses hands in a number of significant contexts in the novel. Here are some examples, which suggest the principal ways in which Dickens employs them for symbolic purposes:

  • when Magwitch is recaptured and he and the other convict counter-accuse each other, Compeyson taunts Magwitch ‘with the words, ‘You are not much to look at,' and with a half-taunting glance at the bound hands.' (Ch. 5; Vol. 1, Ch. 5):
    • the idea of being bound is central to the book: it is the outward sign of the convicts' status'
    • Pip is bound apprentice, which suggests that he, too, is captured for the rest of his life (see also Imagery and symbolism: Chains, files and prisons)
  • at Satis House, Estella remarks of Pip, ‘‘what coarse hands he has'' (Ch. 8; Vol. 1, Ch. 8):
  • when Magwitch reappears Pip notes ‘with a stupid kind of amazement, that he was holding out both his hands to me.' (Ch. 39; Vol. 1, Ch. 20):
    • in this example hands represent a sign of affection, a gesture that at this stage Pip does not understand
    • later in the scene, Magwitch twice seizes Pip's hands and kisses them and on the second occasion he does so, Pip remarks ‘my blood ran cold within me', for he finds it impossible to accept the relationship between them that this gesture indicates
    • Pip is also reacting in a manner relating to his new class status: he is judging Magwitch as Estella first judged him
  • in the boat after Magwitch is recaptured, Pip holds his hand as he promises to remain faithful to him from now on (Ch. 54; Vol. 3, Ch. 15)
  • at Magwitch's trial: ‘No objection was made to my getting close to the dock, on the outside of it, and holding the hand that he stretched forth to me' (Ch. 56; Vol. 3, Ch. 18), and Magwitch dies holding Pip's hands:
    • in these two scenes towards the end of the book, the holding of hands has come to represent love, fidelity, acceptance and gratitude.
  • Note other scenes in the novel where hands seem to be significant
  • Are they similar to the four examples given above, or do they suggest other uses of hands for symbolic purposes?
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