Figurative Language in Great Expectations

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Figurative language can be a tough concept to understand. Simply put, figurative language is when words are used in a way that is not meant to be taken literally; authors often exploit this for expressive purposes. In this lesson, we will take a look at a few examples of figurative language in 'Great Expectations.'

Figurative Language

Figurative language is when the words we use take on a different meaning than they normally do. Three common types of figurative language are alliteration, hyperbole and simile. It took me a hundred years to read 'Great Expectations.' If you have heard someone say this, you would know that it took them a long time to read the book. You would also know that they are exaggerating, and that it did not literally take them a hundred years to read the book. This exaggeration is just one type of figurative language.


Alliteration is when the same beginning sound is repeated in a sentence. Many tongue twisters use alliteration. Try saying this five times fast; She sells seashells by the seashore. It's tough because our brains have a hard time handling the alliteration. If we slow down, we can say it with less difficulty. Since alliteration makes us slow down, authors use it to draw our attention to their writing.

An example of alliteration from Great Expectations is when Miss Havisham pays Joe for Pip's work. Upon receiving the money, Joe tells Pip ''It is as such received and grateful welcome, though never looked for, far nor near, nor nowheres.'' In other words, Joe is making it clear that he did not expect to be paid for Pip's work. Can you spot the alliteration here? The very last six words in the sentence repeat the ''f'' and ''n.'' This example of alliteration helps slow the reader down and focus on what Joe is saying. This is important because Joe is portrayed as a good, honest man. The fact that he does not want to be paid is one of the ways the Dickens shows us this. The use of alliteration makes his honor and humility a matter of attention.


A simile is when two things are compared using the word ''like'' or ''as.'' Similes make writing more interesting and help convey emotion. For example, if someone said ''I was dizzy, and the ground swayed under me like a small fishing in the middle of a storm,'' they are comparing their dizziness to a boat in the ocean. The same thought could be expressed by saying ''I was dizzy,'' but the simile helps us understand how extreme it is.

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