What is the conflict in Dickens' Great Expectations?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are two predominant conflicts in Great Expectations. The first is in the conflict category of Human against Human while the second is Human against Self. From the beginning Pip is set-up in a position of double conflict with Estella (Human against Human). Miss Havisham wants to (1) use Pip to punish mankind for her betrayal at the alter. Her clever scheme is to (2) cause Pip to fall in love with Estella who has been taught to scorn males with a cold, proud vanity that is unyielding. This conflict is resolved at the end of the story when Estella confess that she continued in "remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth" and Pip reciprocates with "in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her."

As his tutelage under Miss Havisham continues, and he attributes his fortune to her, Pip comes to be in conflict with himself (Human against Self) as he learns to adopt as he own the proud and arrogant ways that Miss Havisham and Estella epitomize. Pip comes to scorn anything and anyone who does not stand up to their measure, including good but rough Joe who has only Pip's best interests at heart. When Pip promises Magwitch that he will always stay by his side, he offers tangible proof that he has overcome this conflict and has shed the domination of Estella's and Miss Havisham's hatred and pride.

"I will never stir from your side," said I, "when I am suffered to be near you. Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!"

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Great Expectations

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