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Comment on the following quote from Great Expectations: "Mother by adoption, I have...

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Comment on the following quote from Great Expectations:

"Mother by adoption, I have said that I owe everything to you. All I possess is  freely yours. All that you have given me, is at your command to have again. Beyond that I have nothing, and if you ask me to give you what you never gave me, my gratitude and duty cannot do impossibilities."

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This quote comes from Chapter 38 and is uttered by Estella to Miss Havisham. As Pip reports to the reader, this is the very first time he has been aware of any problems in the relationship between Miss Havisham and Estella, and what has triggered this is Miss Havisham's perception of Estella's lack of love towards her. Estella's gaze expresses a "self-possessed indifference" towards Miss Havisham that causes the latter to cry out:

“You stock and stone!” exclaimed Miss Havisham. “You cold, cold heart!”

In response to being cold "stock and stone" and possessing a "cold, cold heart," Estella responds with the quote that is listed in this question. The irony of what she says is obvious. Whilst Estella's debt of gratitude towards Miss Havisham is obvious, but she cannot give what she has not been given in the first place. As Miss Havisham never gave Estella love, gentleness and kindness, Miss Havisham can now not expect to receive from Estella what she never gave to her in the first place. You reap what you sow, and Miss Havisham has done such a great job of creating a woman to gain her revenge against the male gender that she can't blame Estella for lacking in compassion. The way that Estella refers to Miss Havisham as "Mother" is key as it draws attention to one of the important themes of the novel, which is that of substitute parents who do a very poor job. Miss Havisham is one such substitute parent, and Magwitch is another, but both do a poor job in their "parenting" of Estella and Pip, respectively.


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