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Pip's life is transformed as a result of his meeting Estella and his experience at Satis House.



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.

  • 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" (page 61).

  • 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.

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 love.


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 class.

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 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 Estella:

"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!"...
        "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).
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?

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 fantasies?

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.)


Day 1 Pages 1-124
    Overview of Dickens
    Some General Comments
    Dickens and Society
    The Opening of Great Expectations
    Pip's Sense of Guilt
Day 2 Pages 125-253
    Pip, Estella, and Miss Havisham
Day 3 Pages 254-366
    Pip's Expectations
Day 4 Pages 367-490
    Redemption and Love
    The ending

November 6, 2005