Dickens’ description of Miss Havisham’s is full of death and decay imagery, he does this to emphasis the long amount of time that has passed since Miss Havisham first put on her wedding dress. ‘Been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. ‘ The fact that Pip describes her eye’s as being the only thing bright within her, the only thing alive, is important; as Miss Havisham’s eyes are the window to her soul and mind, which are still very quick and focused.
It is in the many descriptions of Miss Havisham that Dickens’ choice to use first person narration really pays off. We see Miss Havisham and all her strangeness through the eyes of a young child, which intensifies every detail so it has a much larger impact on the reader. ‘Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. ‘ Pip combines two horrific memories and creates a whole new horrifying image of Miss Havisham, one that scares Pip and the reader.
Pip’s youth, sensitivity and imagination assist Dickens in creating a gothic terror atmosphere, a very popular genre at the time Dickens wrote ‘Great Expectations’; this ambience pronounces the terrors of Pip’s experience during his visits to Satis House. ‘I thought it a strange thing then, and I thought it a stranger thing long afterwards. I turned my eyes – a little dimmed by looking up at the frosty light… and I saw a figure hanging there by the neck. A figure all in yellow white’. Throughout the novel Miss Havisham’s cruelty intensifies, she plays many evil tricks and games on the few people who remain around her.
Central to the novel’s plot, is Miss Havisham’s plans to break man’s hearts, and force them to suffer the pain she has lived with for decades. When Pip and the audience are introduced to Miss Havisham we are unsure of her true intentions, and although Miss Havisham openly announces them in the presence of Pip and Estella, Dickens manages to create such an uncertainty within Pip, that the reader does not believe she is telling the truth. ‘I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer – only it seemed so unlikely – “Well?
You can break his heart. “‘ By allowing Miss Havisham to show this daring and unsettling behaviour, Dickens has illustrated how Victorian society allowed people of the upper class to do what they pleased without ever questioning them, or doubting whether what they were doing was wrong. We can also take from that, how Miss Havisham knows she has the freedom to do what she wants, without Pip doing anything to stop her or daring to deify her, she may not wish to live in the real world, but she understands how to survive in it.
Dickens also emphasises Miss Havisham’s cruelty by using antithesis, a linguist device which places two opposites together – ironic when we think of Pip and Estella’s relationship. An example of Dickens use of antithesis is present in the extract ‘grimly playful manner’, a quote which is used by Pip to describe Miss Havisham’s smile. Dickens’ choice to use ‘grimly’ a word which carries connotations with death and then go on to describe a very lively active mood; highlights Miss Havisham’s ability to manipulate any situation and the danger that represents.
Also crucial to the ‘Great Expectations’ plot, is how Miss Havisham ‘tricks’ Pip, into believing that she is his mysterious benefactor. Her ability to control the situation by using just four key facts proves to the audience that at this point her mind is still very quick and together; but the reader is as nai?? ve to the truth as Pip is at this moment in the novel, so can not yet understand Miss Havisham’s vindictiveness. Yes, Miss Havisham. ‘ `And you are adopted by a rich person? ‘ `Not named? ‘ `And Mr Jaggers is made your guardian? ‘ you will always keep the name of Pip, you know.
‘ This indulges Pip’s fantasy that Miss Havisham wants him and Estella to be together, and encourages him to continue his infatuation with Estella. There is evidence throughout the text that Pip has been convinced by Miss Havisham’s knowledge of his benefactor, an example of this being ‘She had adopted Estella, she had as good as adopted me, and it could not fail to be her intention to bring us together. ‘ By playing this game with Pip’s mind, Miss Havisham has also ensured that Pip, unlike all the other men in Miss Havisham’s life, will not drift away and leave her.
Pip is not the only one Miss Havisham deludes by disclosing her knowledge of Pip’s benefaction, harm is also done to Sarah Pocket. Miss Havisham asks Sarah to remain at the door, secretly allowing her to be witness to her and Pip’s conversation. Miss Havisham teases not only Pip with her information, but also Sarah, both of whom Miss Havisham traps under the impression that she is responsible for giving Pip the boost in life he has longed for. We see through Pip’s eyes, how Miss Havisham enjoys deluding them both and playing with Sarah Pocket’s mind; ‘so keen was her enjoyment of Sarah Pocket’s jealous dismay.
‘She looked at me, and looked at Sarah, and Sarah’s countenance wrung out of her watchful face a cruel smile. ` In the novel Dickens tells us how Mr Jaggers, attempted to “save” Estella from a terrible life, by giving her to Miss Havisham when she was just three years old, to be raised at Satis House. Miss Havisham adopts Estella initially meaning to care for her, perhaps as an antidote to her terrible loneliness, decayed morality and extreme bitterness of the jilted woman begins. Miss Havisham dictates her expectations onto Estella, and it is no surprise that she becomes a heartless and calculating siren.
Unlike Pip, Estella has no aspirations to become a lady – she is manufactured into one as an instrument of revenge. If she has an expectation at all, it must be to hurt and humiliate all those who are close to her. The fact that she does exactly that to the woman who brings her up is a great irony, Miss Havisham uses Estella as a weapon on the opposite sex, but in fact the greater harm is done to Miss Havisham and to her adopted daughter. Dickens uses this as the basis of the social message in the novel, and it is one that is still relevant today – it is always wrong too using a child, as an instrument of revenge.
Like many things in this world and Dickens’, things often get a lot worst before they get any better, and the same is true for Miss Havisham’s character. In part two of ‘Great Expectations’, Miss Havisham develops into a much crueler person desperate for revenge and love. Dickens describes this change in terms of her being hungry and how she becomes ravenous. ‘Miss Havisham kissed that hand to her, with a ravenous intensity that was of its kind quite dreadful’,’ sat mumbling her own trembling fingers while she looked at her, as though she were devouring the beautiful creature she had reared.
‘ The fact Miss Havisham is hungry for these things, gives her situation added insistence, as being ‘hungry’ is often related to food which is the fuel of all life. Dickens elaborates on the changes Miss Havisham goes through, by describing her metaphorically through the ivy surrounding her house. In part one of ‘Great Expectations’, when Miss Havisham has yet to become so desperate, the ivy is describes as being healthy and beautiful, ‘strong green ivy clasping even the stacks of chimneys with its twigs and tendons, as if with sinewy old arms, had made up a rich attractive mystery, of which I was the hero.
‘ As Miss Havisham descends into despair, Dickens chooses to instead give Miss Havisham some of the ivy’s qualities and features, ‘withered arms’, ‘the muscles of the thin arm round my neck,’. Dickens creates the image of Miss Havisham strangling, poisoning those around, acting like a weed living off another. In Part three of ‘Great Expectations’, Miss Havisham is finally presented with the terrible consequences of her actions. Miss Havisham sees first hand the pain she has caused Estella, and in Pip the pain she suffered the day her heart was broken.
‘Until you spoke to her the other day, and until I saw in you a looking-glass that showed me what I had once felt, myself, I did not know what I had done. What have I done! What have I done! ‘ The way she uses both Estella; her family and Pip to fulfil her twisted fantasies and to revenge herself on the world for her misfortunes, is unspeakably cruel, but Dickens shows us the terrible remorse which she suffers when she realises the extent of the harm she has done and we are left feeling sorry for her.
Dickens describes Miss Havisham as having ‘white’ hair and begging Pip for his forgiveness, all of which make Miss Havisham’s character seem more pathetic and old, which adds to the sympathy felt for her by the audience and Pip. Dickens ingeniously hints towards Miss Havisham’s death during the latter parts of the novel, by allowing Miss Havisham to draw closer to her moral cleansing, the fire.
As mentioned before Dickens depicts Miss Havisham’s eyes being the window to her soul and show how her mind is still sharp and together, but as we approach Miss Havisham’s death, her eyes seem to be transfixed by the flames; ‘ and looked at the fire with a strong expression of forcing herself to attend. ‘, ‘she raised her head and looked at the fire again’,’ close before, and lost in contemplation of, the ashy fire’. Miss Havisham allows herself to fall into the fire she gradually brings herself closer and closer to the fire, searching it for answers and forgiveness.
The fire drives out the beetles and spiders and destroys the faded bridal dress which represents (for her as much as for the reader) her imprisonment in the past; it is replaced with new ‘white’ bandages which represent her new found state of peace and clarity. It is only very late in the novel that Miss Havisham realises the damage that she has done both to Estella and to Pip, Too late of course for anything to be changed, Miss Havisham dies in the same mental agony in which she has lived since the day she stopped the clocks in her house. Note also how cleverly Dickens contrives her end – as she burns in a kind of living Hell fire.
Perhaps we could say that Dickens makes the punishment fit Miss Havisham’s crime – that of making Estella grow up in a “Hell” of icy revenge. True to his Victorian morality, of course, Dickens has Pip forgive her and allows her to settle an annuity on the Faithful relation, Matthew Pocket and his son before she dies. In conclusion Dickens is successful in using Miss Havisham to comment on Victorian society, he uses her character to explain how the upper class were given the power to thoughtlessly dominate, manipulate and buy whatever or whoever they wanted.
Prompting the reader to question whether the amount of someone’s liquid assets should determine how they’re treated and how much freedom over other people they are willingly given. He also portrays through Miss Havisham’s misfortunes an important moral message that it is foolish to allow one bad memory to dictate the rest of your life, because it is a selfish act, and how not trusting yourself to love again will inevitably hurt those who care most about you.