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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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What does Estella mean when she says, "I am what you have made me" in chapter 38?

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When Estella says, "I am what you have made me" in chapter 38, she means that Miss Havisham raised her to be proud, cold, indifferent, and hard. Miss Havisham shaped Estella this way to take revenge on men, and Estella's heartlessness is a direct result of her upbringing. Estella highlights that her behavior towards Miss Havisham is consistent with her training.

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In a passionate scene, Miss Havisham demands to know why Estella shows her cool indifference rather than love. They are sitting by the fire, Miss Havisham holding Estella's hand. Miss Havisham pours out how much she has loved and lavished attention on Estella. Estella agrees and says she owes everything to Miss Havisham. However, she says "I am what you made me," meaning that Miss Havisham brought her up from earliest childhood to be proud, cold, indifferent, and hard. Miss Havisham, she said, praised her for showing those traits. Miss Havisham formed her to wreak revenge on men by breaking their hearts as Miss Havisham's was broken.

Estella is telling Miss Havisham that she has sown what she reaped. If she wanted Estella to be warm and affectionate towards her, she should have encouraged her to be that kind of person. Now it is too late for Estella to transform into a woman who can humbly profess her love for others. Estella and her guardian share the following exchange:

“Who taught me to be hard?” returned Estella. “Who praised me when I learnt my lesson?”

“But to be proud and hard to me!” Miss Havisham quite shrieked, as she stretched out her arms. “Estella, Estella, Estella, to be proud and hard to me!”

Estella looked at her for a moment with a kind of calm wonder, but was not otherwise disturbed; when the moment was past, she looked down at the fire again.

“I cannot think,” said Estella, raising her eyes after a silence, “why you should be so unreasonable when I come to see you after a separation. I have never forgotten your wrongs and their causes. I have never been unfaithful to you or your schooling. I have never shown any weakness that I can charge myself with.”

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heartlessness on her.  She always expected it to be directed outward.

You stock and stone!” exclaimed Miss Havisham. “You cold, cold heart!”

“What!” said Estella, preserving her attitude of indifference as she leaned against the great chimney-piece and only moving her eyes; “do you reproach me for being cold? You?”

“Are you not?” was the fierce retort.

“You should know,” said Estella. “I am what you have made me. Take all the praise, take all the blame; take all the success, take all the failure; in short, take me.” (ch 38, enotes etext p. 206)

Miss Havisham has used Estella to get her revenge on all men.  She created her to be unfeeling, messing with the heads of boys and men.  As a result, Estella had no feelings of her own of any kind.  She did not feel for the men she used, but she also did not feel for other people she might bring to harm.  She had no sympathy for Miss Havisham, and resented what she had done to her.

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