Great expectations is a classic bildungsroman following the life journey of narrator, and protagonist: Pip. During the development of the novel, Pip meets, and ultimately falls in love with a young girl named Estella. It is later revealed that both Pip, and Estella’s lineage can be traced to roots of low class status. However, both have been provided an opportunity for social advancement through two separate patrons, namely Miss Havisham and Magwitch. In this, their course of growth share similar origins, yet follow somewhat different paths, and have different outcomes through the interference of their benefactors. By discussing the differences and similarities between Pip’s and Estella’s inculcation, and observing the results, this essay aims to examine the benefactors’ shaping of their lives. The intended aim will be approached by first reviewing the differences and similarities of motivations of each benefactor in the social status ‘upliftment’ they provide. Then, Pips, and Estella’s reaction to the social advancement, will be discussed before observing what effect this advancement has on their nature.
Miss Havisham’s motivations for adopting Estella is one of her many peculiarities. This adoption may be viewed as a selfish act to achieve selfish ends. Shortly after Pip’s arrival in London, Herbert Pocket, Pip’s friend, provides information as to the cause of Miss Havisham’s eccentricity and seclusion. He relays the story of her heartbreak to Pip by explaining how her husband-to-be aborted the wedding, leaving her waiting at the altar. Following this, Herbert describes the motivation behind adopting Estella as a result; in order “to wreak revenge on all the male sex” (Dickens 177). One concludes this to be a plausible explanation as he first emphasizes that Miss Havisham was raised a spoilt, proud child and, subsequently, used to getting her way. To that end, Estella is objectified and presented as a weapon forged for revenge. Perhaps the most telling evidence advocating this idea is Pip’s language use in the following extract detailing how Miss Havisham “hung upon Estella's beauty, hung upon her words, hung upon her gestures, and sat mumbling her own trembling fingers while she looked at her, as though she were devouring the beautiful creature she reared” (Dickens 302). The creature, that is, indoctrinated to eternalize and mirror Miss Havisham’s bitterness.
Similarly, Pip is also objectified and elevated for a certain purpose, albeit in a less explicit and direct manner. Magwitch, Pip’s benefactor, tells of his struggles and criminal past, and plainly indicates the inequality of justice and fairness between the different levels of social class (September 9). Through this, the reasons for Pip’s funding is called into question as a sense of vindictive motivation becomes discernable when Magwitch makes statements such as: “blast you everyone, from the judge in his wig, to the colonist a stirring up the dust, I’ll show a better gentleman than the whole kit on you put together!” (Dickens 332). Nonetheless, these statements are downplayed, and presented as a part of the motivation, but not its core. Magwitch sees himself as a father in a sense, and confesses his affection for Pip. With this, an air of sincerity and tenderness regarding Pip and his well-being persists from their earliest encounter, when Magwitch pointedly prevents suspicion to fall on Pip for stolen goods, until the moment of his death, holding Pip’s hand. He works, and lives hard in order to provide Pip with a genteel lifestyle, and to allow Pip the opportunity to a life he could not have, both for Pip’s sake, and his own.
One may argue, then, that both benefactors, driven by revenge, initially intend to live vicariously through the lives that they have shaped and manipulated. Yet, Miss Havisham’s workings seem mostly self-centered, unkind and uncaring of others. Diversely, Magwitch’s intentions demonstrate both selfish (to a lesser extent), and selfless, caring (to a greater extent) acts.
Both Pip and Estella display a sense of snobbishness, or haughty attitude towards those of lower social status at the height of, and in reaction to, their financial and social advancement. Estella displays this attitude, especially towards Pip, from the moment of her introduction. She admonishes Pip for being “coarse and common” (Dickens 235), pointing out his rugged boots and hands, and the fact that he calls “the knaves Jacks” (Dickens 60) during their first card game. Throughout the novel, this cold-hearted attitude remains evident. As Pip matures, one notices that this experience has left an impression on him. A struggle takes hold within him as he is caught between his affection for Joe (his uncle), and a growing aversion to his surroundings, as they remind him of being ‘coarse and common’. This aversion becomes plainly spoken after Pip admits to being ashamed of his home by stating: “I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year all this was changed. Now it was all coarse and common” (Dickens 107). One is reminded where and how this change in belief started, and the impression it made, when Pip subtly makes the connection through saying that he “would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account” (Dickens 107). In connection to this extract, one might say that, by using Estella’s words (Coarse and common), he signals her opinion in relation to the change he feels towards his home, and begins to adopt her point of view. Subsequently, Pip distances himself from his life in the marsh village, and the people linked to it, upon his elevation. He does so to such an extent that he lives beyond even his new found means, and falls into debt. Snobbish though he may have become, Pip’s good nature sporadically surfaces, suggesting its continued existence through acts such as secretly investing money into Herbert’s future business, and the display of his unconditional love for Estella. He also responds pettishly to Joe calling him sir, and seems to be embarrassed by his ingratitude, but expects from Joe to understand or acknowledge the reasons as to why he is behaving so. Almost as if he does not feel comfortable with the person he has become. Estella, on the other hand, assumes the callous persona in the way that Pip cannot.
In the end, Pip’s good nature overcomes his pompous behavior as he comes to realize that the true value of integrity and a gentleperson cannot be bought or payed for. This is a valuable lesson learnt, and may not have been learnt at all if not for the exposure to a genteel lifestyle as provided by Magwitch. The contrast between Pip’s initial reactions to discovering the identity of his benefactor compared to his reaction upon Magwitch’s injury serves as an indication of this lesson. When Magwitch first reveals himself to Pip, Pip is repulsed and distraught. Upon the discovery, he grabs at a chair, nearly falling over, and says: “The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast” (Dickens 319). Such an acutely negative description then highlights the difference in Pip at a later stage. After realizing the injustice he had done, mainly to Joe and Biddy, he states (regarding Magwitch): “For now, my repugnance to him had all melted away; and in the Hunted, wounded, shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously, towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe” (Dickens 446). These thoughts, thereby, express the shift in Pip; the shift of his understanding that class and money is not a distinguishing factor of a ‘gentleman’ or a good character. He then begs forgiveness from Joe and Biddy, and starts his life anew through hard work and perseverance, as both Joe and Magwitch had done.
However, in Estella’s case, her heart remains as cold as ice. The indoctrination visited upon her by Miss Havisham is further reaching than even Miss Havisham herself could have expected. As Estella was meant to be a tool for revenge against men, she learnt to be insensitive and blunted towards the feelings of love. But Miss Havisham, shocked to find this bluntness directed even towards her, cannot accept the explanation that Estella is incapable of love in any form. Estella, though, encapsulates her upbringing so strikingly, and accurately when she says: “if you had taught her, from the dawn of her intelligence, with your utmost energy and might, that there was such a thing as daylight, but that it was made to be her enemy and destroyer, and she must always turn against it, for it had blighted you and would else blight her;—if you had done this, and then, for a purpose, had wanted her to take naturally to the daylight and she could not do it, you would have been disappointed and angry?” (Dickens 306). As the novel draws to a close, the reader is only left with hope that she may eventually learn to love, and care, both for Pip and in general, through the hardship she endured during a difficult marriage.
In conclusion, as discussed, one can see clear differences between Pip’s and Estella’s development through the novel, as well as the results. Estella’s rise, born from bitterness and revenge on Miss Havisham’s part, leads to her haughty personality and incapacity for love and affection. She hurts and manipulates, but due to her inculcation, Pip (as well as the reader) forgives, sympathizes with, and pities her. Pip’s rise, on the other hand, is born from a nobler intention through hard work. Pip temporarily disconnects from his good nature, as his impression of wealth and class deludes him. Fortunately, Joe’s and Magwitch’s actions and example lead Pip to understanding the difference between being a ‘gentle-person’ in morals and integrity, and simply being called a gentleman as a result of wealth and class. As the new compassionate Pip reunites with Estella, one hopes for a positive change in Estella, and the happiness of them both.
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Dickens, Charles, and Charlotte Mitchell. Great Expectations. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.
September, Aramis Phantom. The Industrial Revolution's Monstrous Interchangeability: The Character of Pip as an Industrial Reimagining of Frankenstein's Creature. Diss. University of Georgia, 2015.