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

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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 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." 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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Great Expectations

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