What are Estella's and Miss Havisham's roles in Great Expectations?

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Estella is a playmate of Pip's as a child. Miss Havisham is a local wealthy woman.

Both demonstrate the evil that having great wealth can create. Miss Havisham really wanted to be loved, but was left at the altar years ago. Estella is not her real daughter, she was adopted, in part for Miss Havisham to train to hate men, just like she now does.  These women both end up lacking not only the ability to love, but also to be loved. Their purpose in the story of Great Expectations is to show the misfortune of not working to have positive relationships in life, something much more rewarding than wealth. I think this is one of the reasons why this book is called by its title. Havisham had once wanted something and expected to get it, but never did. Her expectation was all she was left with and never getting the desired result turned her into a terrible person. Both women are an example of expectations unfulfilled.

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mstokes | College Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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Pip's life is transformed as a result of his meeting Estella and his experience at Satis House. From the first, Estella treats Pip with contempt and deliberately humiliates him. Yet his response is to love her. because he is attracted to her beauty and her social superiority; she is the remote princess of fairy tales. And so the the prospect of Pip's gaining her love would be remote as well. Pip, who is habitually mistreated, expects to be abused and is comfortable being abused. Estella's cruelty fits his expectation of abuse, his sense of powerlessness, and his low self esteem, so he is drawn to her.

Miss Havisham and Satis House, both in ruins, represent wealth and social status for Pip; the irony is obvious. Their decayed state prefigures the emptiness of Pip's dream of rising in social status and of so being worthy of Estella. With them, Dickens extends his satire of society from the abuse of children and criminals to the corruption of wealth. Miss Havisham's fawning, self-interested, envious relatives and their competition for her wealth illustrate the evil effects of the love of money. Dickens sees the valuing of money and status over all else as a primary drive in society, which is dominated by the mercantile middle class.

Miss Havisham encourages Estella to entrap Pip and break his heart, for practice. Later she explicitly urges Pip to love Estella:

"Love her, love her, love her! If she favours you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces–, love her!"...
Though Pip is aware that the love she refers to sounds like hate, despair, revenge, and death, a curse rather than a blessing, he perseveres in his attachment for Estella. His attachment has adverse effects on him.

Pip, both in his dream of having great expectations to win Estella and in the realization of those expectations, is passive; he waits for others and for events to act upon him and give him direction, meaning, and purpose. He wishes to become a gentleman because he is unhappy with his status, and his desire to be a gentleman makes him unhappy. His feelings about Joe and home make him feel guilty. Once he is made a gentleman, he becomes a snob and leads a futile, empty life. Never in Estella's presence is he happy, as he well knows, yet he dreams of being happy with her in some future, when Miss Havisham will bestow her upon him. But surrounded by Miss Havisham's conniving relatives and impressed by her example and teachings, Estella is an emotionally abused child. Critics have suggested that Estella hates herself. And worst of all, Estella has been robbed of the ability to love.

Dorothy Van Ghent believes "Miss Havisham is guilty of aggression against life in using the two children, Pip and Estella, as inanimate instruments of revenge for her broken heart.


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