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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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In Great Expectations, what does Estella mean when she says, "Don't be afraid of my being a blessing to him"?

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Estella knows that she was never taught to love or be concerned about anyone other than herself. She knows that she either can't love, or that she would make Pip suffer by not loving him in return. Therefore, she chooses to marry the only man who is eligible to marry her and whom she doesn't think will care if he gets her heart or not. In Chapters 2-3 of Great Expectations, Dickens writes: "My father's family name being Pirrip, and my christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip." Later in Chapter 3 he writes "I loved him yet the feeling that we must soon part, was a sad one to me..."

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Estella says this to Pip when he protests against her throwing herself away by marrying a "brute" like Drummle. What she means is that she has been taught all her life by Miss Havisham to be cold and disdainful towards other people, especially men. Estella cannot feel love and affection...

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the way others can: her heart, due to her training by Miss Havisham, is icy. She can't even love Miss Havisham, the woman who raised her. Drummle may be a brute to her, but Estella will repay it with scorn and lack of concern. She says to Pip:

Should I fling myself away upon the man who would the soonest feel (if people do feel such things) that I took nothing to him? There! It is done. I shall do well enough, and so will my husband. As to leading me into what you call this fatal step, Miss Havisham would have had me wait, and not marry yet; but I am tired of the life I have led, which has very few charms for me, and I am willing enough to change it.

In other words, she realizes it would be worse to give herself to a man, like Pip, who could "feel" and would be hurt by her lack of ability to love him in return. Estella is aware of what she lacks and is humane enough, in a rational way, to want to spare a deserving person pain.

When Pip breaks out in impassioned love talk about how much she is a part of him, Estella simply looks at him with "a ghastly stare of pity and remorse."

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Estella does not love Drummle, and does not intend to be a caring wife.

Pip is horrified when he learns that Estella is going to marry Drummle.  Pip has professed his love to her, and she has rejected it by telling him that she cannot love.  When she says that she will not be a blessing to Drummle, this means both that Drummle does not really love her and that she does not really love him.  She has married him to put an end to her pain in having to lead men on, and he has married her as a prize.  She has chosen the most despicable man she could find, both out of self-hatred and as a final slap in the face to would-be suitors.

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This quote is said by Estella to Pip when she informs him that she is to be married to Drummle, who is described by Pip as a "brute of a man," and clearly depicted as a very unpleasant individual indeed. Note what Pip says to Estella just a few lines before Estella delivers the quote that is mentioned in this question:

Estella, dearest Estella, do not let Miss Havisham lead you into this fatal step. Put me aside for ever,—you have done so, I well know,—but bestow yourself on some worthier person than Drummle. Miss Havisham gives you to him, as the greatest slight and injury that could be done to the many far better men who admire you, and to the few who truly love you.

Pip in this quote is concerned about Estella is doing to herself by marrying Drummle. She is making a "fatal step" according to him, and he urges her to forget Drummle and marry somebody else who is "worthier" for her. Estella replies in a very ironic way. Her speech to Pip assures him that she is not the only person who will suffer as a result of her marriage to Drummle, as she will definitely not be a "blessing" in any way. She cuts through Pip's idea that it is she alone that will be hurt through this relationship and presents herself as being more than an equal of Drummle in terms of her heartlessness and strength. Pip still thinks of love in relation to marriage, and believes Estella will get hurt, whereas Estella does not associate love with marriage, and this explains the irony of her quotation.

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