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Analysis

Great Expectations Allusions & Cultural References

When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Literature and Philosophy

  • William Shakespeare, Hamlet. Pip and Herbert go to see Mr. Wopsle in a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet. (31)
  • Mr. Wopsle buys The History of George Barnwell. He, Pip, and Mr. Pumblechook read it aloud one night (15). The play is a 1731 moral tale about a London apprentice who's ruined by associating with prostitutes. Coincidence?

Historical References

  • Buffalo! Pip discusses Herbert's attitude toward his accumulating debts, saying, "[…] he became so deeply despondent again as to talk of buying a rifle and going to America, with a general purpose of compelling buffaloes to make his fortune." (34.5)
  • Herbert discusses trade in the "West Indies": "'I think I shall trade, also,' said he, putting his hands in his waistcoat pockets, 'to the West Indies, for sugar, tobacco, and rum. Also to Ceylon, especially for elephants' tusks!'" (22.76)
  • Herbert references the Tartars when describing Miss Havisham. "'Pooh!' said he, 'I didn't much care for it. She's a Tartar.'" (22.13)
  • Mrs. Joe asks Joe, "why he had not married a Negress slave at once?" (12.26). The British Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807, and in 1834, slavery became illegal in the British colonies.

Pop Culture

  • "Old Clem." An old blacksmith's song, Pip, Joe, and Orlick used to sing this song at the forge. Pip also remembers teaching Miss Havisham and Estella the words to "Old Clem." (58.3)
  • Handel's "The Harmonious Blacksmith." Herbert gives Pip the nickname of "Handel": "'Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There's a charming piece of music by Handel called, 'The Harmonious Blacksmith.'" (22.35)
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