Compare and contrast Pip's love for Estella in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Romeo's love for Juliet in Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare on the basis of ill-fated love. (The...

Compare and contrast Pip's love for Estella in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Romeo's love for Juliet in Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare on the basis of ill-fated love.

(The contrast essentially involves the theme of ill-fated love in each of the stories.)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet decries the significance of Romeo's name:

'Tis thy name that is my enemy
Thou art thyself...
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. (2.2.38-44)

However, while the name itself has no significance, that which accompanies this name such as the family members, the social status, and the environment of the family all exert a powerful impact upon a person. These elements are what affect the ill-fated loves of both Romeo and Juliet and Pip and Estella in Great Expectations.


  • Social Divide

In Romeo and Juliet it is the enmity of the feuding Montagues and Capulets that causes the conflicts in the love and lives of Romeo and Juliet. Indeed, they are "star-crossed lovers" whose situations are fated. Because they know that their parents will forbid their being together, Romeo urges Juliet to hastily marry him; it is this marriage into the Capulet family that leads to Romeo's efforts to conciliate Tybalt, enraging the fiery-tempered Capulet and precipitating his stabbing of Romeo's friend Mercutio which then leads Romeo to kill Tybalt in turn. The banishment of Romeo distresses Juliet; furthermore, her marriage to Romeo prevents her marrying Paris, whom her father insists she marry. Consequently, she takes a potion that makes her appear to be dead so that Friar Laurence has time to ameliorate things between the feuding families. Shortly before she is to awaken from the potion, the uninformed Romeo (Mantua was quarantined and the messenger from Friar Laurence cannot reach him) arrives at her tomb only minutes before she awakens. So, as fate would have it, Romeo believes her dead and kills himself; later, she discovers her lover and husband when she becomes conscious and kills herself also.

It is Miss Havisham of Great Expectations who is the impediment to Pip's love for Estella since she has taught her beautiful ward to "break his heart." Her virulent and all-consuming misandry is manifested in the lovely Estella who grows up to be selfish, cruel, and completely unfeeling and scornful of men. Though she finally realizes the error in her child-rearing and begs Pip to forgive her by writing it on her notepad, Estella's heart has been permanently hardened and made cold. As a result, she, too, suffers because she has lost human feeling.

  • All-consuming love

Both Romeo and Juliet love blindly, for in the intensity of their passion for one another they forget their familial obligations and discredit the impediments to their love, convinced that these elements hold no force in their lives. Theirs is a violent love against which Friar Laurence warns Romeo:

These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder....
Therefore, love moderately, long love doth so,
Too swift arrives, as tardy as too slow.

Such strong passion as Romeo and Juliet possess consumes their reason and leads to their "violent ends." For example, Romeo swiftly concludes that Juliet is dead even though he perceives that she is "yet so fair." 

In Great Expectations, with his hyper-imagination, Pip finds himself star-struck by the beauty of Estella (who name means "star"), and he slavishly loves her despite her ridicule of him as "coarse and common," as well as her cruelty to him. Young Pip believes that if he can become a gentleman in London and thereby lose his commonness he will be worthy of Estella, and she will grow to love him. But after he is grown and has acquired an education, when Estella returns home from her French education, Pip is informed by her that she is engaged to one of higher society, albeit a brute. Besides, Estella adds, she cannot love anyone because Miss Havisham has brought her up to be cruel and hate men so that Miss Havisham could have her vicarious revenge upon men. She frankly tells Pip, "I have no heart." 

  • Basic natures

The impulsiveness of Romeo certainly figures into his fated love. While he recognizes the irrationality of his actions at times, he has been unable to control his impetuous nature, insisting that the Friar join him and Juliet in marriage, slaying Tybalt in his rage, rashly assuming Juliet is dead after he speaks with his manservant, purchasing poison, then impulsively swallowing it in his despair upon perceiving his beloved dead: "Here, here will I remain/With worms that are thy chambermaids" (5.3.).

Like Romeo, Pip convinces himself of an idea. He feels that money will change his life, and has "great expectations" after Mr. Jaggers informs him about his secret benefactor. Unrealistically, Pip decides that Estella will grow to love him if he becomes a gentleman. Like Romeo, he is myopic in his perceptions. For instance, he believes that if he is around whenever Estella needs him to take her somewhere or if he rejects his "common" family, Estella will turn her affections toward him.

Yet this made me none the happier, for I felt that she held my heart in her hand because she willfully chose to do it, and not because it would have wrung any tenderness in her....

In his self-deception Pip is cruel to those who love him. He recriminates himself for neglecting Joe, his one true friend, realizing that pride has gravely hurt Joe. Neither Pip nor Romeo have been realistic; instead, they have perceived the world through "a glass darkly"* and not clearly and objectively.

*Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians


Because Dickens's novel is lengthy, Pip is a much more developed character. And, because of the extensiveness of the novel, there is more opportunity for Pip to interact with other characters, a condition that certainly aids him in self-realization. Pip finally recognizes his faults; for instance, he reflects upon Herbert:

...I often wondered how I had conceived that old idea of his inaptitude, until I was one day enlightened by the reflection that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me.

Romeo, on the other hand, has only a few moments of self-realization, such as the one he experiences after he kills Tybalt. Usually, he blames his misfortunes on fate and rushes headlong to his death.

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Great Expectations

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