Food and meals

Dickens is always alert to the significance of food and meals, both in understanding social situations and in the lives of individuals (see also, Big ideas from the Bible, Feasting and fasting) . Great Expectations contains numerous examples of individual and collective eating, of which a few examples are given here:

  • Pip steals food for Magwitch (Ch. 1; Vol. 1, Ch. 1):
    • this is the primary act of charity and compassion: Pip is terrified into bringing the food, but his sympathy for Magwitch grows as he watches him eat, and the convict never forgets his actions
  • Pip suffers at the Christmas dinner table (Ch. 4; Vol.1 Ch. 4):
    • the adults victimize Pip as a moral example
    • he is compared to a piglet so that he almost becomes the food being consumed
    • Joe is helpless to protect Pip from this onslaught, but expresses his sympathy by giving him more gravy
  • there are the remains of a wedding feast at Satis House (Ch. 8; Vol. 1, Ch. 8):
    • this is another indication of how Miss Havisham has stopped time at the moment she learnt that she had been jilted
  • Herbert corrects Pip's table manners (Ch. 22; Vol. 2, Ch. 3):
    • this scene is part of Pip's initiation into the behaviour of a new social class
    • Herbert's tact and use of humour is very evident;
  • dinner at Jaggers' house (Ch. 26; Vol. 2, Ch. 7):
    • this is in great contrast to the later scene at Wemmick's house: it is controlled by Jaggers himself, who takes charge of all the crockery, cutlery and serving
    • Jaggers seems to be testing the young men, allowing them to lose some of their control to see what they might say
    • there is the strange incident with Molly his housekeeper, which initiates a new mystery in the plot;
  • Joe visits Pip (Ch. 27; Vol. 2, Ch. 8):< ul>
  • when Joe visits Pip and Herbert for lunch, Pip is embarrassed by his table manners
  • he lacks Herbert's ease and tact in dealing with the situation;
  • the scene is an indication of the social distance Pip has travelled and also of the social distance he still has to travel
  • eating at the Wemmick household (Ch. 37; Vol. 2, Ch. 18):
    • this is a pleasant, informal and gently comic scene, with the Aged P making the toast and Miss Skiffins making the tea and doing the washing-up
  • Pip is repelled by Magwitch's eating (Ch. 39; Vol. 3, Ch. 1):
    • ‘He ate in a ravenous way that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy and greedy'
    • as with Joe, Pip's reaction arises from the social distance he has travelled.
  • List some of the other meals in the novel and make notes on the part they play in the development of the narrative.
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