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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Compare the presentation of evil in Macbeth and Great Expectations.

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In both works, evil is presented as a willingness to destroy other lives to fulfill one's own agenda. In Great ExpectationsMiss Havisham, bitter and angry at having been left at the altar, and unable or unwilling to recover from that trauma, wreaks revenge by turning her ward Estella into a cold-hearted woman, and by teaching her to break Pip's heart as Miss Havisham's was once broken. In Macbeth, Lord and Lady Macbeth are willing to murder others, including a king who has been good to them, as well as children, to advance their own agenda. All of these characters are evil because they wilfully crush their own compassion and empathy towards others, becoming indifferent to the people they destroy. As Pip realizes at the end of the novel:

It would have been cruel of Miss Havisham, horribly cruel, to practice on the susceptibility of a poor boy, and to torture me through all these years with a vain hope and an idle pursuit, if she had reflected on the gravity of what she did. But I think she did not. I think that in the endurance of her own trial, she forgot mine, Estella ...

Another similarity between the two works lies in their portrayal of an evil woman. Both Miss Havisham and Lady Macbeth defy stereotypes of women as nurturing, maternal, kindhearted and gentle. Lady Macbeth goes out of her way to try to crush any compassionate impulse in her soul. "Unsex me here ... fill me [with] direst cruelty," she says, aware that her "feminine" instincts could interfere with her ambitions. She encourages Macbeth when he hesitates to kill Duncan, saying she would dash her own baby's brains out if she had promised to do so.

Miss Havisham, likewise, is hardly a kindly older woman. From the start, she wants Pip to be scorned and rejected. Pip later sees her as "diseased," just as Lady Macbeth will later understand herself as stained. In both works, evil is portrayed as a soul sickness, a deformation of the normal.

Both women also play on social expectations about women as dispensers of hospitality to deceive their victims. For a long time, Pip lacks the ability to see that a seemingly hospitable upper-class woman would hurt him. He's confused that Lady Havisham invites him over and allows him to spend time in her house, mistaking it for kindness.  Likewise, Duncan is lured into trust by Lady Macbeth's flattering and kind words, never suspecting his host and hostess are plotting to murder him. 

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