Discuss the theme of revenge in Great Expectations.

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The theme of revenge is most prominent in this novel with the character of Miss Havisham. Indeed, we might say that she is vengeance personified, with her ghastly, decayed appearance which not surprisingly leaves a vivid impression on the young Pip. On his first glimpse of her, Pip remembers a waxwork and a skeleton that he had previously been taken to see:

Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could. (Vol I, chapter viii)

Pip, then, is terrified of this strange figure which hardly appears human or alive at all.

Miss Havisham's grotesque outward appearance mirrors a nature consumed by a lifelong bitterness. Her fiance jilted her at the wedding altar and ever since she has dedicated herself to getting her revenge. To this end, she uses the beautiful young Estella to simultaneously bewitch and reject Pip. In this way she wreaks her revenge vicariously through Estella upon the unfortunate Pip. 

Pip's whole life-course is altered by meeting Estella, as he falls hopelessly in love with her. He determines to leave his rural life and become a wealthy city gentleman, simply in order to impress her. This move brings a whole host of problems for him, and has a significant effect on his whole life. Therefore Miss Havisham's desire for revenge actively fuels the plot of the novel and has a lasting, profound influence on the main character and narrator, Pip.


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