Great Expectations: Miss H. Essay, Research Paper
A great many readers would characterize Miss Havisham as a puppetmaster. It is plain to see that she is manipulating and brainwashing her adopted daughter Estella in order to live vicariously through her, since her physically and evidently emotionally withered body and mind will not allow her to take action herself. Estella becomes an extension of her pervading bitterness towards men, and the vulnerable social neophyte Pip serves as the perfect target, even from his boyhood days. Pip is subjected to many atrocities at Miss Havisham s will. He lives a life that is an emotional roller coaster and eventually turns out to be a lie. But as shadows from the past, namely Magwitch and Compeyson, resurface, the truth unravels right in Pip and Miss Havisham s faces. It is at this juncture that Miss Havisham realizes the grievous error of her ways. In the climactic chapter, when Pip meets her for the last time, Miss Havisham realizes her wrongs, shows heartfelt sorrow, and attempts to make amends, and her burning at the chapter s close symbolizes her purification.
Pip returns to Satis House for the first time in a very long while. Along the trip he is struck by the morbid dreariness that seems to have fallen over the land since his last visit. He arrives and is instantly overtaken by a wave of distant nostalgia. He reenters Satis House to find Miss Havisham lost in contemplation before a fire. From the very first, it is obvious that she is a shell of her former self, as there is an air of loneliness about her. Normally, her being alone wouldn t make her lonely per se, as she would be brooding with her malice. Now, however, it is clear that she has come to a sharp realization of her wrongdoings and is now severely effected. Pip begins to talk to her, but finds it difficult to get his point across because of her strange behavior. Though she is thankful for Pip s arrival, she looks upon him with awe, even fear, as if she almost expects Pip to rebuke and punish her for what she has done to him. She is to immersed in her own introspective guilt to realize that Pip is attempting to resolve the situation and achieve a reconciliation between the two of them. As it stands, however, Pip finds it futile and fruitless to say anything to her in such an overly contemplative state. He gently brings her back down to earth and she forces herself to attend.
Even before Pip arrives, Miss Havisham claims she is aware that there is a favor Pip would like to ask of her. Pip thinks it a bit much to ask, but Miss Havisham agrees. She takes solace in the fact that providing for Herbert s partnership will ease Pip s mind, but she still feels it isn t enough. She would much rather do something specifically and personally for Pip, since this would alleviate her feeling of wretchedness more directly. Above all, she needs to be positive that Pip has forgiven her. Pip assures her that he bears her no ill will, nor is he bitter towards her in any way, but in her anguished state, there is no satisfying her. The best she can do is to implore Pip for forgiveness, and to that end she offers him a request. She presents him with the ivory tablets upon which Herbert s contract has been inscribed, and begs that if Pip can one day find the kindness in his heart to write the words I forgive her beneath where her name appears, it would put her soul at ease, even if her broken heart is dust .
Throughout the entire exchange, Miss Havisham is seen as a physical and emotional wreck. Her eyes are pained and at times vacant, her face worn by something more than age, and her appearance overall is described as more haggard and withered than ever. One can discern a great deal about one s sincerity simply by the way they look and act, because there is only a certain degree to which one can play it up . Through Dickens descriptive characterization of Miss Havisham in this scene, it is beyond any doubt that her guilt is genuine and her sorrow heartfelt. She then goes to an extreme by begging forgiveness on her knees, the last thing one would ever expect the cold, callous, stone-hearted Miss Havisham we ve seen up to this point to do. Even Pip is indeed taken very off-guard by this gesture, which he views with a mixture of amazement and shock. All Miss Havisham s remorse and grief pours out uninhibited then, as she wails repeatedly What have I done? It is now obvious to Pip and to the reader, as she lamentably moans over and over again What have I done? , that spiteful and evil as her deeds may have been, no punishment anyone could possibly exact on her would be worthwhile or even justified. The state of utter ruin she now finds herself in, the result of decades of isolation and alienation from the real world that has rotted and diseased her mind even more than her body, is more vindication than she could possibly be put through by any other means. Pip, having accomplished his goal on behalf of Herbert and unable to find any way to comfort Miss Havisham, takes his leave.
The reader is left hanging by Pip s sudden departure. Although Pip has completed all he needed to, there is no resolution of Miss Havisham as a character. It is extremely unfulfilling to the reader and unbecoming of the story to leave such a loose end dangling. Apparently, Pip also finds it difficult to leave so suddenly, so he opts for a final walk through the grounds of Satis House. The dreariness of the place, gloomily enhanced by the dismal weather, is now more permeating than ever, as Pip s childhood memories, now viewed in a whole new light, rush back to haunt him. He finds himself tied to the place and is compelled to go back up and check on Miss Havisham, which he does, only to see her engulfed in a column of flame as she leans over the fireplace. Pip s reaction is quick and instinctual, as he smothers the flames without any regard to his own well-being. She survives, though in decidedly bad shape. Every bit of her old bridal dress has been burned away, illustrating the fact that, even though her time on earth is growing short, Miss Havisham has repented and cast off all of her former self in an attempt to make amends with all those whom she has done wrong, most notably Pip. The destruction of her dress, which symbolized her old begrudging and bitter nature, and the image of burning as a purifying and cleansing, though painful, experience shows that she has indeed come into her own as a character and no loose ends have been left.
Even despite all the previous offenses she has committed, Miss Havisham convincingly makes a switch for the better in this climactic scene. One cannot help but feel sympathy for this once menacing but now humble creature. It offers hope to Pip that perhaps not all those in his life have turned their backs on him, and that the world isn t such a dreary place if people can change for the better, as Miss Havisham did.