In Chapter 38 of Great Expectations, what images does Dickens invoke to describe Miss Havisham and, with proof, why use these?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a thorough description of Miss Havisham, Pip describes her as "most weird," as with "witch-like eagerness" she "extorted from Estella the names and conditions of the men whom she had fascinated."  It is as though Miss Havisham draws life from Estella. And, at this point, Pip reflects upon the artificiality of Miss Havisham's life with the mere candle light in an air that "is seldom renewed."  He regards the gloom, the stopped clock, the withered garments, and Miss Havisham's "ghostly reflection thrown large by the fire upon the ceiling and wall."

Pip notices the "bitter sense of dependence" that Miss Havisham has regarding Estella.  For, it is as though Miss Havisham can exist only by  vicariously experiencing what Estella has.  Thus, after Estella is cold to her, Miss Havisham appears ghostly to Pip.  Later, as he lies awake in a separate part of the house across the courtyard, he is haunted by a vision in his mind of "a thousand Miss Havishams."  So, he rises and goes to a long stone passageway where he sees "Miss Havisham going along it in a ghostly manner, making a low cry."  As he moves away, Pip hears her "ceaseless low cry."

From a witch-like appearance, Miss Havisham has withered to a mere ghost of a person.  For while her goal in life has been to wreak revenge on men through Estella, she has drawn sustenance for her life from her love for the girl. When Estella tells her that she cannot return a love she has been taught to not possess, Miss Havisham, withered already by her life of deprivation, now becomes ghostly.  She is a mere apparition of herself; Pip notes that on the subsequent visits he notices "something like fear infused" among the former characteristics of Miss Havisham's manner with Estella.

lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pip brings Estella back to Satis House for a day at Miss Havisham’s request. Pip notices that she is even wilder than before with regard to Estella (“even more dreadfully fond of her . . .”). She hangs on Estella’s every word as if “devouring” her. Pip’s description of her is of a desperate woman, frantic to find out if the monster she has created is doing her work. Pip says she had the “intensity of a mind mortally hurt and diseased” and that she looked almost like a witch, with her “crutch stick,”placing her chin on the stick, and her “wan bright eyes” glaring at Pip. The image is of a dried up, desperate old crone. Pip finally realizes that it is Miss Havisham’s plan to use Estella to wreak her vengeance on all mankind. Vengeance has turned Miss Havisham into a bitter, wild, mentally deranged shrew.

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Great Expectations

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