What is going on with Estella now in Chapter 38 of "Great Expectations"?Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 38 of "Great Expectations" as Pip visits Estella in Richmond he reflects,

A feeling that it was ungenerous to press myself upon her when she knew that she could not choose but obey Miss Havisham.  My dread always was, that this knowledge on her part laid me under a heavy disadvantage with her pride, and me me the subject of rebellious struggle in her bosom.

Estella is the product of Miss Havisham albeit having some understanding of Pip's innocence in the plan.  She tries to warn Pip against loving her, but he is deluded and believes that her coldness is for all the other admirers in obeisance to Miss Havisham, his benefactor.  Pip is convinced that "his benefactor" intends for Estella and him to marry after her plan of revenge upon men is complete. 

That Pip is deluded is foreshadowing for what follows as Miss Havisham, too, has been deluded into believing that Estella can be conditioned to have a cold heart towards everyone but her.  When Estella and Pip are at Satis House, Miss Havisham delights in the recounting of Estella's cruelty to her many suitors.  As Estella "detaches herself" from the arm of Miss Havisham who has held her, Estella shows an impatience with "endur[ing] that fierce affection."  Hurt by her coldness, Miss Havisham calls Estella "You ingrate.  You stock and stone...You cold, cold heart!"

To this outcry of emotion from Miss Havisham, Estella calmly explains that it is she, her "mother" who has made her cold as she has taught her to break hearts: 

Who taught me to be hard?  Who praised me when I learned my lesson?

Miss Havisham, devastated emotionally, falls to the floor "amid the other wreckage."  Later that evening, Pip sees her walking and hears her "low cry."  But, the next day and on three other occasions there is no apparent indication that anything has altered in their relationship other than the slight appearance of fear in Miss Havisham.  Like Miss Havisham, Pip, too, begins to realize that Estella's heart can only be cold and not admit him, either.

This chapter helps advance the theme of Appearance vs. Reality.  Although Mr. Jaggers has advised Pip to not take things on their appearance, Pip has repeatedly done exactly that.

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Great Expectations

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