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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens
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How does Dickens create sympathy for Miss Havisham in Great Expectations? 

The purpose of the narrator in Great Expectations is to reveal Pip's true nature, and to make the reader sympathize with Pip. In Stage I, the narrator serves as an omniscient observer and commentator on events outside of Pip himself. In this stage, he introduces a number of characters, many of whom will play important roles later in the novel. In Stage II, however, his role becomes decidedly more complex. As the story progresses in stages III and IV, it is evident that there are two narrators: one who reflects upon past events (and who may serve as a foil for the reader) and another who retells events from Pip's point-of-view.

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During Pip's first visit to Satis House, he describes the dark and decaying atmosphere in which the strange Miss Havisham sits. And, when the immobile Pip does not respond to her request to play, Miss Havisham asks if he is obstinate, Pip replies,

"No, ma'am, I am very sorry for you, and very sorry I can't play....but it's so new here, and so strange, and so fine--and melancholy--

"So new to him, " she muttered, "so old to me, sto strange to him, so familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us!"

Certainly, there is a poignancy to the words of Miss Havisham that suggest some tragic implications to her words and manners.  Later in Chapter XXII as Pip becomes reacquainted with the "pale young gentleman" whom he encountered on his first visit to Satis House, Herbert Pocket relates the tragic history of the young, wealthy Miss Havisham. He explains that the naive heiress to a fortune was duped by a suitor and left at the altar on their wedding day.

 Well! This man pursued Miss Havisham closely, and professed to be devoted to her..... all the susceptibility she possessed, certainly came out then, and she passionately loved him.... He practised on her affection in that systematic way, that he got great sums of money from her, and he induced her to buy her brother out of a share in the brewery...at an immense price, on the plea that when he was her husband he must hold and manage it all.

But, at twenty minutes to nine on her wedding day, she received a letter rejecting her. Herbert explains,

"When she recovered from a bad illness that she had, she laid the whole place waste, as you have seen it, and she has never since looked upon the light of day.”

Because of her terrible rejection and shame, Miss Havisham has closed herself from the world and vows revenge upon the male race, exploiting her ward, Estella, to this end. When he learns this and that Miss Havisham's brother was a part of the conspiracy, Pip begins to understand her oddities.

Certainly, Pip's sympathies as well as that of the reader's are elicited in Stage III of Great Expectations, in which the moral regeneration of Pip and Miss Havisham occur. For, having observed the misery of Pip as he learns that Estella is to marry Bentley Drummle, Miss Havisham perceives in him, the shadow of yourself.  In Chapter XLIX, when Pip visits Miss Havisham, she gives Pip money to help establish Herbert at a bank; then, she hands him a little pad on which she asks him to write, "I forgive her."

...to my amazement,...she dropped on her knees at my feet; with her folded hands raised to me in the manner in which, when her poor heart was young and fresh and whole, they must often have been raised to Heaven from her mother's side.

I had never seen her shed a tear before, and in the hope that the relief might do her good, I bent over her without speaking.....“O!” she cried, despairingly. “What have I done? What have I done!”

Pip tells her not to worry about him, but tells her she has wronged Estella by making her so cold.  Miss Havisham pitiably explains that she meant to save Estella "from misery like my own."  Pip replies that it were better to have left Estella "a natural heart, even to be bruised or broken."  For, so thoroughly cruel is Estella that she has no love for her benefactress: "I am what you have made me," is her response to Miss Havisham's, " But to be proud and hard to me!” in Chapter XXXVIII.

Sadly, it is a lonely woman Pip leaves sitting before a fire. 

 

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With regard to Miss Havisham and the setting of her house...especially the room with the wedding cake and feast still laid out on the table...one can not help feel sorry for her.  She is still wearing her tattered wedding clothing, and has never put on the last stocking or shoe.  She is in a perpetual state of waiting for her love to come marry her, which we all know by now is not going to happen.  All the clocks are stopped at the exact time she found out that he wasn't coming.  Everything in that house is as if time stopped, except for the aging process and the rot and filth.  The bugs have made a feast of the food, her satins and laces are rotting and hanging in threads from her thin, wrinkled, and aging body.  She is hateful (understandable, don't you think?) and she does teach Estella to be hateful to all men, but she is still a very pitiful character.  Any reader who puts himself into her shoes would understand and relate to the pain and suffering she has gone through. 

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