Interestingly enough, Great Expectations had two different endings. Dickens changed the ending when he was convinced that the first one would not be profitable. I guess everyone’s a sucker for a happy ending! Both scenes have significance, but I tend to believe that the original ending is worth more.
In the published ending, Pip runs into Estella on the ruins of Satis House. She seems to have mended her ways and is ready to ride off into the sunset with Pip. Dickens implies that the two will never part again, and live happily ever after.
I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.
This is an optimistic ending. The significance is that anyone can change, and even if you have been hurt you can still find love.
In the original ending, things do not end with Pip and Estella together. Pip runs into Estella on a street in London. She is married, he is not, and he has Joe and Biddy’s child with him. They shake hands and part ways forever.
I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.
It’s a matter of taste, but I have always believed this ending to be far more realistic and Dickens's true intention. They have both been through so much that one has to ask if they really would be happy together, or ever can be happy at all. However, the significance of this ending is that Pip has moved on with his life and is no longer pining for Estella. He has learned his lesson. That’s another reason I prefer the second ending.
1. Estella is with the protagonist Pip. This Estella is the same daughter of the convict with whom we opened the book. A second generation that has taken advantage of the young Pip is now and still at work.
2. I believe there is great irony in Dickens' closing scene of Great Expectations. Estella's character is changed from what we have seen throughout the novel, she has been leading and manipulative to Pip. Here, we see her changed:
I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape. Be as considerate and good to me as you were and tell me we are friends.
Estella's words to Pip demonstrate his experiences. This bending and breaking has been happening his whole life. The difference here is that she is embracing it. Pip never could embrace his circumstances. He continues with great expectations... his life feels unfulfilled.
3. The setting of the scene is at Satis House, or what was left of it. This moment finds Estella being genuine and sincere to Pip, something she never really did while Miss Havisham was alive or while Satis House was standing.
4. Most importantly, Satis House is changing.
The ground belongs to me. It is the only possession I have not relinquished. Everything else has gone from me, little by little, but I have kept this. It was the subject of the only determined resistance I made in all the wretched years.
Satis House was a symbol of the "determined resistance" she was trained in for all those years. Estella's life is moving on. Pip is not in that place in his life to let go or move on yet. Estella has matured through the problems of her existence. Pip is still expecting.