In Great Expectations, Estella says to Pip,"suffering has been stronger than all other teaching." How does suffering teach Estella and Pip?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"I little thought," said Estella, "that I should take leave of you in taking leave of this spot. I am very glad to do so."

"Glad to part again, Estella? To me, parting is a painful thing. To me, the remembrance of our last parting has been ever mournful and painful."

"But you said to me," returned Estella, very earnestly, "'God bless you, God forgive you!' And if you could say that to me then, you will not hesitate to say that to me now,—now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends."

"We are friends," said I, rising and bending over her, as she rose from the bench.

The context of Estella's quote is her surprise meeting with Pip in the rising "evening mist" at Satis House. They have both come to bid farewell to the ruinous remains of Miss Havisham's home. Estella proves to Pip by her touch, no longer "insensible," by her tear in "the first rays of the moonlight," and by her admission of "remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth," that suffering has taught her compassion, humility and humanity.

Estella is no longer the proud beauty. Her broken physical beauty is a symbol for her broken inner beauty. Suffering has left its traces upon her. Still Pip says “the freshness of her beauty was indeed gone, … [but] its indescribable majesty and ... charm remained." This is similarly true for her inner character: while the haughty pride and disdain for human tenderness is gone, the true character of Estella remains and has surfaced to reveal its humanity.

Those attractions in it, I had seen before; what I had never seen before, was the saddened, softened light of the once proud eyes; what I had never felt before was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand.

Pip had learned a similar and parallel lesson when he learned to accept and appreciate Magwitch as his benefactor and a reformed man; when Pip himself learned a humility that did not come as a lesson at Miss Havisham's knee.

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Great Expectations

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