“It was one of those March days
when the sun shines hot
and the wind blows cold:
when it is summer in the light,
and winter in the shade.”
– Charles Dickens (Great Expectations)
Why I chose this book quote
These words perfectly describe early spring in the UK. But they do so much more than that. This is one of those quotes that I see something new in, every time I read it.
I’m not usually a fan of the literary device used here. It’s called pathetic fallacy. It’s when a writer describes nature – often the weather – as a reflection of a character’s mood. Which sounds really clever, doesn’t it? And in this quote, it is.
There are a couple of problems with pathetic fallacy. The first is overuse. If you find it in a book once, you’ll probably find it again in the same book. Several times. The effect soon wears off. The second problem is subtlety. If you’re noticing pathetic fallacy in a story you’re reading – and you’re not looking for it – it’s probably a little too obvious.
But I think Dickens nailed it here. Pip’s future is uncertain, he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but he’s going with the flow. Just like the British weather, life will be what it will be. In a while, it will be something else. And later, it will change again. He can’t focus on everything. He’s picked the most important thing at that moment, and he’s dealing with it. I could learn a thing or two from this character.
This quote also embodies the whole theme of Great Expectations. Sometimes life is good, sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes you have money, other times you may struggle to pay the bills. Sometimes you are surrounded by love, other times you may feel alone. Life goes on. You adapt. You get to where you’re meant to be in the end.
This theme shows us why it’s good not to be too smug when things are going well. And to remember that if it ever feels like you’ve hit rock bottom, the only way is up.
What this book quote means to me
Description is the most challenging aspect of writing for me. Reading books with powerful description is a great way of learning how to do it well.
Scene setting relies on good description. What things look and sound like is reasonably easy to convey. What they feel like is harder to show. But here, we know exactly how it feels to be in this scene. Without anyone telling us how it looks or sounds, we have been transported to another place and time – in 29 words.
So I can learn something from the writer, the theme, and the character. I can also just enjoy the scene. Frankly, quotes like this make me feel I still have a long way to go!
But it’s important to remember that even Dickens started somewhere.
How does this quote make you feel?
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