The Hands of Great Expectations

In his article, “Handling the Perceptual Politics of Identity in Great Expectations,” Peter J Capuano takes notice of all the numerous hand-related references throughout Charles Dickens’ novel, Great Expectations. For example, Capuano points out that there are over 450 references to hands, both literally and figuratively, throughout the novel, and that these references create distinctions between characters and their relationship with identity politics. Capuano even goes as far to suggest that Dickens’ manipulates anatomy throughout the use of discourse to convey the pivotal development of Pip, Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Joe, and Estella. One of the first claims Capuano makes about Dickens’ manipulation of anatomy is seen when Herbert calls Pip “Handel,” in his attempt to further elevate Pip’s reputation in bourgeois society. In addition, Capuano asserts that the hands of the aforementioned characters are indicative of their social class and position in society. For example, Capuano takes notice of the depiction of the female gesture at Satis House and the ways in which it works simultaneously as a combination of verbal and manual direction. We see this in Pip’s first interaction with Miss Havisham when he takes notice of the bright jewels displayed on her hands that display rich attributes and her bourgeois appearance. This shows Miss Havisham’s social class being portrayed by Dickens gestural use of hands. Furthermore, Dickens discusses the impatient movement of Miss Havisham’s fingers on her right hand when she commands Pip to play. This is indicative of the manual direction and her identity within aristocratic position in society that Capuano describes in his article. Capuano then brings up the idea of a Darwinian model of character development through Pip’s character while simultaneously adding to his notion of the portrayal of hands signifying his social, economical and even emotional values. In his transition from lower to upper class, we see Pip’s identity described through the use of his hands as “course” in Joe’s forge to “bejeweled” in London, which further represents his development as a bildungsroman character. Ultimately, Capuano establishes the interconnected ways Dickens use of hand imagery depicts societal and moral identities within the novel. 

Chapter 26:¶ 19  (talk of Molly’s wrist)

Chapter 8: ¶ 32, ¶ 50 (Miss Havisham)

Chapter 39: ¶ 70 – (Pips recoiled hands) 

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