Reed points out that the return of the prodigal son, a motif derived from one of Christ's parables in the gospels, proved wildly popular in Victorian fiction and drama. Dickens used it in several novels. Wopsle in Great Expectations, for example, “prefigures a subtle theme of the novel in a simple, comic way when he exhorts the company gathered for Christmas dinner at the Gargerys', 'Swine were the companions of the prodigal' (Chapter 4). The observation has a point in this particular scene, since Pip has just stolen a pork pie to feed a genuine prodigal, the convict of the marsh, and has thus allied himself with sinners and outcasts as the prodigal son did. Moreover, his life to come will also be a departure from the values of the home to which he must, like the prodigal son, return, having learned the necessary lesson of humility and love" (p. 241).

Biblical allusion, as this example suggests, is not just a matter of a simple analogy or image. In this case allusion pervades character, plot, and other devices of the novel. What does such allusion tell a modern reader about the novel's original audience? What does it tell us about the author's religious belief?

Related Material


Reed, John R. Victorian Conventions. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1975.

Last modified 1988

Last modified 8 June 2007