PIP, ESTELLA, AND MISS HAVISHAM
Pip's life is transformed as a result of his meeting
Estella and his experience at Satis House.
PIP'S LOVE OF ESTELLA
From the first, Estella treats Pip with contempt and
deliberately humiliates him. Yet his response is to love her. Why?
The most obvious answer is that he is attracted to her
beauty and her social superiority; she is the remote princess of fairy
tales. And so the the prospect of Pip's gaining her love would be
remote as well.
There are less romantic possibilities.
This list is not intended to be definitive, but to stimulate your
thinking and to encourage you to find your own interpretations of Pip's
- Pip, who is habitually mistreated, expects to be
abused and is comfortable being abused (this is not the same thing as liking
or wanting to be abused). Estella's cruelty fits his
expectation of abuse, his sense of powerlessness, and his low self
esteem, so he is drawn to her.
- A variant of the expectation-of-abuse theory is that
Pip's sense of guilt requires punishment, which Estella amply provides.
Pip reveals the urge to punish himself when, in reaction to her
treatment of him, he kicks the wall and "took a hard twist at my hair"
- Michal Peled Ginsburg offers a psychologically more
subtle and sophisticated explanation: "The desire for Estella and Pip's
feeling of insufficiency are two sides of the same coin: desire is the
feeling of a lack. It is Estella's perfection and self-sufficiency (her
pride) that show Pip that he is lacking, and it is the fact that she
makes him feel lacking that transforms her in his eyes to a perfect and
totally self-sufficient creature."
- Ross H. Dabney puts a different spin on Pip's
relationship with Estella; Pip "is concerned with impersonal
things–with class, with status, with habits, occupations, gestures, and
language standard in a particular social milieu." Thus, he loves what
Estella represents, not what /who she is. This view is not incompatible
with the other theories suggested.
Miss Havisham and Satis House, both in ruins, represent
wealth and social status for Pip; the irony is obvious. Their decayed
state prefigures the emptiness of Pip's dream of rising in social status and of so being
worthy of Estella. With them, Dickens extends his satire of society
from the abuse of children and criminals to the corruption of wealth.
Miss Havisham's fawning, self-interested, envious relatives and their
competition for her wealth illustrate the evil effects of the love of
money. Dickens sees the valuing of money and status over all else as a
primary drive in society, which is dominated by the mercantile middle
Miss Havisham and her decayed house have another
relationship; it parallels the diseased state of her mind. By stopping
time, symbolized by the clocks all reading twenty to nine, Miss
Havisham has stopped her life, which thereby becomes death-in-life. By
wilfully stopping her life at a moment of pain and humiliation, she
indulges her own anger, self-pity, and desire for revenge; she imagines
her death as "the finished curse" upon the man who jilted her (page
87). In her revenge, which destroys her life, she is like a child who
hurts itself in its anger at someone else.
The decay around her also represents her relationship
with others. Her relationships are symbiotic, as we discussed in class.
Her relatives try to feed off her wealth, and she feeds off their envy
and subservience. The feeding relationship is symbolized by the mice,
which eat the bridal cake and which she claims have gnawed at her
heart. She even imagines herself laid out on the table for their
consumption after her death. Miss Havisham feeds off both Estella and
Pip to achieve her own ends. The feeding or attempting to feed off of
others for self-gratification is one manifestation of the
dehumanization or depersonalization that runs through the novel;
repeatedly characters use others as objects, to enhance their own
prestige and self-image, like Pumblechook constantly taking credit and
Mrs. Joe raising Pip "by hand."
Depersonalizing human beings by using them as objects is
such a heinous moral transgression that it is identified as a crime.
Pip calls Pumblechook "that basest of swindlers"; taking credit for
events to which he has no connection, he takes Pip "into custody, with
a right of patronage that left all his former criminality far behind"
(page 103). Because of its dehumanizing emphasis on wealth and status,
society itself is implicitly accused of criminality. As the cruelties
and destructive consequences of society's values reveal themselves,
society is condemned as criminal.
MISS HAVISHAM'S EFFECT ON ESTELLA AND PIP
Miss Havisham encourages Estella to entrap Pip and break
his heart, for practice. Estella complies, and they play a card game,
Beggar My Neighbor. Later, Miss Havisham explicitly urges Pip to love
"Love her, love her, love her! If she favours
you, love her. If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to
pieces–and as it gets older and stronger–it will tear deeper–love her,
love her, love her!"...
What kind of love is she describing (if the feelings she describes are
indeed love)? Do Pip's feelings for Estella and his relationship to her
resemble the "love" Miss Havisham describes? Is he, like Miss Havisham,
obsessed by his "love"? Would it be imposing a modern concept onto Pip
to say that he is addicted to love?
"Hear me, Pip! I adopted her to be loved. I
bred her and educated her to be loved. I developed her into what she
is, that she might be loved. Love her!"...
"I'll tell you," said she, in the same
hurried passionate whisper, "what real love it. It is blind devotion,
unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief
against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole
heart and soul to the smiter–as I did!" (page 240).
Though Pip is aware that the love she refers to sounds
like hate, despair, revenge, and death, a curse rather than a blessing,
he perseveres in his attachment for Estella. His attachment had and
continues to have adverse effects on him.
Pip, both in his dream of having great expectations to
win Estella and in the realization of those expectations, is passive;
he waits for others and for events to act upon him and give him
direction, meaning, and purpose. He wishes to become a gentleman
because he is unhappy with his status, and his desire to be a gentleman
makes him unhappy. His feelings about Joe and home make him feel
guilty. Once he is made a gentleman, he becomes a snob and leads a
futile, empty life. Never in Estella's presence is he happy, as he well
knows, yet he dreams of being happy with her in some future, when Miss
Havisham will bestow her upon him. That Miss Havisham, as well as
Estella, is guilty of manipulating Pip is obvious; is he also guilty of
the same offense? does he manipulate Estella in his thinking and
Miss Havisham's effect on Estella is equally unhappy.
Surrounded by Miss Havisham's conniving relatives and impressed by her
example and teachings, Estella is an emotionally abused child. Estella
too is passive, taking her directions from Miss Havisham; she tells
Pip, "We have no choice, you and I, but to obey our instructions" (page
366). She becomes an accomplished flirt, heartlessly leading men on.
She sees herself as an object; she has to write Miss Havisham "and
report how I go on–I and the jewels" (page 271). It has been suggested
that Estella hates herself. And worst of all, Estella has been robbed
of the ability to love.
How serious an offense is it that Miss Havisham blights
Estella's ability to love? (Dostoevsky said that hell is the loss of
the ability to love.) Is her treatment of Pip and Estella criminal?
Dorothy Van Ghent believes "Miss Havisham is guilty of aggression
against life in using the two children, Pip and Estella, as inanimate
instruments of revenge for her broken heart, and she has been changed
retributively into a fungus." Van Ghent brings up an interesting idea
with her reference to Miss Havisham's becoming a fungus (think of the
mice eating the cake and her heart); has using others had a negative
effect on Miss Havisham? (Van Ghent assigns another significance to
this reciprocal change; she suggests it reveals the characteristic lack
of complex inner life of Dickens's characters; for example, a great
deal of Miss Havisham's inner life is transposed to the spiders and
beetles on her hearth.)
DISCUSSION OF GREAT EXPECTATIONS