What is an example of how the author uses conflict to develop the theme of revenge in Great Expectations?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of revenge is developed through the conflict between Miss Havisham and Estella.

There are many examples of conflict leading to revenge in the book.  Magwitch elevates Pip to take revenge on society for discrimination against him because of his class at the trial.  Orlick wants revenge against Pip for having the life he never had, and for a list of supposed and assumed wrongs. 

One of the greatest conflicts though is between Estella and Miss Havisham.  Theirs is a strange and twisted relationship.  Miss Havisham retreated from the world and froze herself in time when Compeyson jilted her at the altar on her wedding day.  She sought a little orphan girl to raise as her daughter, and Jaggers gave her Magwitch’s daughter because Magwitch had been sent away and Molly was tried for murder.  Yet Miss Havisham’s motives were not entirely pure.

When Pip first meets Estella, it is because she has asked for a local boy to play with.  What Miss Havisham really wants is a child for Estella to practice on.

I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer—only it seemed so unlikely—“Well? You can break his heart.” (ch 8)

Herbert Pocket later tells Pip that Estella has been “brought up by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on all the male sex” (ch 22).  Although Estella takes her teaching to heart, she does not appreciate what Miss Havisham has done to her. 

“You should know,” said Estella. “I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me.” (ch 38)

She takes what little revenge she can on Miss Havisham by marrying Drummle.  This upsets Miss Havisham because it severely limits the number of hearts she can break.  Miss Havisham gets her revenge on men by breaking Pip’s heart, but it is a hollow victory.  She has really accomplished nothing, because nothing can make up for the hurt she suffered at the hands of men, or a man, so long before.

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Great Expectations

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