With reference to society, how does Dickens present the relationship between Estella and Miss Havisham in Great Expectations?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ever the social reformer, there is a didacticism to many of the works of Charles Dickens, including Great Expectations in which there are several children who have been orphaned and are exploited in the homes in which they reside. Little Biddy, for instance, "an orphan like myself," Pip states, is neglected as her hair is unbrushed and her shoes worn. She is made to manage the general store of Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt as well as provide instruction to Pip. Pip also is exploited as his sister plans to acquire social status and, perhaps, monetary advantage, when she hears that Miss Havisham wants a boy to play with her daughter at Satis House.

When Pip arrives he finds a beautiful, but haughty girl with whom he is told to play. And, while they play cards, Estella thinks nothing of ridiculing him for calling the knaves "jacks" and criticizes him for being "a common laboring boy"; furthermore she insults him and even slaps Pip, laughing when he cries. That Miss Havisham encourages this behavior is evinced in her whispering to Estella, "You can break his heart." Clearly, she exploits Estella, teaching her to be cruel and heartless to all the men who court her.  In fact, in the end, she tells Pip that she has no heart. In Chapter XXIX she tells Pip,

"You must know," said Estella, condescending to me as a brilliant and beautiful woman might, "that I have no heart - if that has anything to do with my memory."

Unfortunately for Miss Havisham, the cruelty of Estella extends to all people, and she is cold even to her benefactress, then, in later chapters.  In Chapter XXXVIII, when Pip pays a visit, Miss Havisham and Estella exchange "sharp words."  Miss Havisham asks Estella "Are you tired of me?"

Estella looked at her with perfect composure, and again looked down at the fire.  He gracful figure and her beautiful face expressed a self-possessed indifference to the wild heat of the other that was almost cruel.

"What?" said estella, "Do you reproach me for being cold? You?....I am what you have made me."

"Who taught me to be proud?.... Who praised me when I learned my leasson?"

As Miss Havisham asks, "But to be proud and hard to me!" Estella displays no emotion, no regret, telling her, "The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me." Miss Havisham's exploitation has been complete.

In the final chapter of the novel, Estella explains to Pip that it was only her suffering which became stronger than any teaching, providing her finally with a heart.

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Great Expectations

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