How Does Dickens Present the Character of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations? Analysis

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Most of Dickens’ major novels were first written in monthly or weekly instalments in journals such as ‘Master Humphrey’s Clock’ and ‘Household Words’,which later were reprinted in book form. These instalments made the stories cheap, accessible and the series of regular cliff-hangers made each new episode widely anticipated. American fans even waited at the docks in New York, shouting out to the crew of an incoming ship, asking about what would happen next in the novels. Part of Dickens’ great talent was to incorporate this episodic writing style but still end up with a logical ending.

Although Dickens was a very successful novelist, he was also interested in social reform. He was determined to create a means where he could communicate his ideas on social reform and in 1850 he began editing ‘Household Words.’ The weekly journal included articles on politics, science and history. To increase the number of people willing to buy ‘Household Words,’ it also contained short stories and humorous pieces. Dickens also used the journal to serialize novels that were concerned with social issues.

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In Great expectations Dickens themes unmarried women and property, he wrote the novel in the mid-nineteenth century a period when women’s property rights were being intensely debated in England. His depiction of propertied women in the novel reflects Victorian England’s beliefs about women’s inability to responsibly own and manage their own property. Miss Havisham is in fact presented as the embodiment of women’s failure to properly manage wealth and property.

Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is a wealthy, eccentric old woman living in Satis House near Pip’s village. She is manic and seems insane, walking around her house in a faded wedding dress, keeping a decaying feast on her table, and surrounding herself with clocks stopped at twenty to nine. As a young woman, Miss Havisham was left by her fianc� minutes before her wedding, and now she wants revenge against all men. She deliberately raises Estella to be the tool of her revenge, training her to break men’s hearts. Although she doesn’t appear very often throughout the whole novel, Miss Havisham plays an important role in Pip’s life.

The outside of Satis House is definitely very ambiguous, and Pip is immediately alarmed by its wilderness and sense of disorder. “…Miss Havisham’s house, which was of old brick, and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it.” This interpretation of Satin House by Pip immediately gives the reader an impression of chaotic disorder locked up in what could be described as a prison, which could also reflect Miss Havisham’s life style, the dismal of the house could symbolise her mixture of feelings, and the iron bars the way she has locked up all her feelings inside her for so many years.

“Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred.” This second description of the outside of Satis house also makes me feel as if Dickens was once again referring to Miss Havishams behaviour and the way society viewed her. I reckon that the walled up windows represent the way she never left the house after that fatal day, and kept all her emotions to her self barring herself from the outside world. The word ‘rustly’ makes me feel as if Dickens is trying to say that time has passed and everything has been left the to depend on itself, and no one ever tried to help Miss Havisham and left her abandoned, just like the house, and therefore everything stayed the same after so many tears and now just looks older.

We begin to find out more about Miss Havisham when, Pip finally enters Satis house and is taken by Estella to Miss Havisham’s room, where he comes across many items which begin to stimulate the readers curiosity and Pip’s own. Pip’s first description of Miss Havisham is very na�ve as he describes what he wants to see and not what really is. “She was dressed in rich materials – satins, and lace, and silks – all of white.” The choice of materials immediately shows Miss Havisham’s high status. “…Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair…some bright jewels sparkled on her neck…other jewels lay sparkly on the table. Dresses, less splendid than the dress she wore, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing for she had but one shoe on.” This first description of Miss Havisham by Pip makes her seem almost as a normal bride getting ready. Pip uses words like ‘white’ and ‘splendid’ and ‘sparkly’ which all give the impression of someone delightful and pleasant to look at.

However when Pip realises what he is really seeing, the reader is informed of what seems to be the real of Miss Havisham. “I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow…and had no brightness.” This second description is very different to the first. The adjectives used by Pip to describe objects are almost opposite in the second description, first the jewels were sparkly and then there was no brightness. The dress was no longer ‘splendid’ in the second description but had faded and become yellow. I think this description of the dress also parallels to a description of Miss Havisham when she was young and beautiful, and how her beauty faded during the years. I think that the fact that everything is turning yellow could represent how Miss Havisam is trying to fight past and how slowly she is loosing the battle. I think that Dickens decided to use Pip naivety, and change of opinion, to show haw quickly things can change, to represent how quickly things changed for Miss Havisham. How sudden and unexpected that fatal moment was to her. Just how unexpected the second description by Pip was for the reader.

When Miss Havisham questions Pip, whilst they engage in what could be described as an awkward conversation Pip notices that Miss Havisham’s watch, and clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine. This was the time she found out the news that her fianc� would not attend the wedding. The gesture of stopping the clocks at that same time, to me symbolises that her life stopped at that exact time. The fact that she only wore shoe and never put the second one on, shows that she didn’t dare to carry on dressing after she heard the shocking news, and the fact that she has refused to wear it after so many years shows that she wants to keep everything the same as it was that day. I think all these small gestures that could seem insane at first, symbolise hope. I think Miss Havisham refuses to admit to what has happened to her and therefore stopped everything and left it exactly as it was in hope that her fianc� will come back so they can carry on from were he left her.

When Miss Havisham invites Pip to come closer, Pip seems very shy and insecure. “…it was when I stood before her, avoiding her eyes…” I think Pip felt threatened by this ambiguous old woman he had never met, and when Pip and Miss Havisham finally start talking she does everything but reassure him. Miss Havisham comes across as some sort of disturbed drama queen. She doesn’t simply tell Pip, what is up setting her she places her hand on her chest and questions Pip. “Do you know what I touch here?” obviously knowing Pips response would not be correct in her eyes; she waited for him to answer “your heart.” Before shouting “broken!” intimidating Pip with her revengeful attitude making him feel inferior. I think Miss Havisham put on this so called act to degrade Pip and make him feel uncomfortable, because she received personal pleasure from hurting people, just like when she had been hurt. At this point Miss Havishams personality begins to shine through.

Miss Havisham admits to having ‘sick fancies’ and orders Pip to play, again making him feel uncomfortable, putting him in an awkward position. It almost seems as if Miss Havisham treats Pip as a slave ” ‘There, there!’ with an impatient movement of the fingers of her right hand; ‘play, play, play!” ” Then she commands Pip to call Estella, so they could play together and so, she could put to work her plan of revenge. Just before Pip and Estella begin to play cards Pip thinks he hears Miss Havisham say to Estella “…You can break his heart.” However this seems too unlikely so Pip doesn’t take much notice. What he doesn’t know however is that that unlikely whisper is nothing more than the beginning of the misery of his life.

Miss Havisham is determined to make Pip fall in love with Estella, so that Estella could break his heart, just like her own was broken. She keeps asking Pip what he thinks of Estella until she receives the response she wanted to here. ” ‘What do you think of her?…anything else?…any thing else?’ ” This continuous, tormenting repetition of the same question makes me feel as if she is trying to convince him that there is something else, maybe that he has fallen in love with her.

When Pip replies “I think she is pretty…I think I should like to go home.” Miss Havisham says “And never see her again, though she is so pretty?” When Pip finally replies that he would like to see her again, Miss Havisham smiles slightly. I interpreted this hidden smile as a sign of victory, I think she feels she has achieved what she wanted and made Pip fall in love with Estella. However almost immediately what seemed a smile dropped to a brooding expression. I think Dickens included this change of expression to show that however heartless Miss Havisham has seemed so far, doing this to Pip is making her comeback to reality and think back to her feelings and how hurt, sad and depressed she felt.

Near the end of the novel when Miss Havisham is near her death day, we see a radical change in her personality. Pip goes to visit her on her request, and what seems like a swap of roles seems to occur. Indifference to earlier in the book it is now Miss Havisham who cannot look at Pip in the eye, as if she, was now afraid of him. “…I remarked a new expression on her face, as if she was afraid of me…still without looking at me…” I feel that Miss Havisham cannot look at Pip because she feels responsible for his unhappiness and the guilt is restricting her from facing him. Once again her feelings are taking over Miss Havisham, just like when she was heart broken and locked her self away in Satis House not able to face the world, now that she feels guilt she is trying to keep herself from facing Pip.

She now seems like a different person she has put her anger aside and wants forgiveness. ” I want …to show you that I am not all stone.” This phrase I think shows that she has realised what she has done, and how she has come across to Pip and tries to prove to him that she can do good by giving him the money he needed for his friend. However she wants to do more and repair the unhappiness she caused in his life regarding Estella. She bravely asks him “is there anything I can do for you yourself?” Even though I think that deep down she is aware that the damage is done now, and not even she herself, the cause, can fix it.

The guilt is beginning to take over Miss Havisham, and she slowly begins to confess. “…I stole her heart away and put ice in its place.” I think that by telling Pip this, she wants to make sure he knows it is not entirely Estella’s fault if he was so deeply hurt, and really only she was to blame. The use of langue ‘put ice in its place’ symbolises the way Miss Havisham stole away Estellas ability to love, as ice is cold and people without loving feelings are usually referred to as cold hearted. Another great symbolic action Dickens includes is the burning of Miss Havisham’s dress and Pip’s rescue. I think that the burning of the dress symbolises that her old self has burned away that she has opened her eyes and realised what was happening around her, and the fact that Pip saved her from the flames I think also parallels with the way that Pip was actually what saved her from her old self and made her a better person.

Miss Havisham comes to understand the enormity of her actions. In the agony of remorse, she kneels to Pip, cries, falls to the ground, while repeating, “What have I done!” Until released by death, the delirious Miss Havisham repeats, three sentences: “What have I done!,” “When she first came, I meant to save her from misery like mine,” she is referring to Estella, she didn’t bring her up the way she did only to have revenge on men, but also because she was trying to protect her from being hurt like she was. I think that this action however unjustified it may seem, proves how much Miss Havisham was really hurt, and how much she cared for Estella. She also says “Take the pencil and write under my name, ‘I forgive her!’ ” She is now so desperate she is literally begging Pip for his forgiveness, which I think shows her sincerity and love towards Pip which is such a change from the heartless women she was before.

I think Dickens decided to invent a character like Miss Havisham to show the effects of karma, and to change the Victorian civilisation point of view on unmarried women. He did this by giving her a very strong and defensive character, which also brought entertainment to the novel. I also think the message he was trying to put through was that everyone can change and deserve a second chance because in the end love always overcomes hate.

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How Does Dickens Present the Character of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations? Analysis. (2017, Oct 16). Retrieved from

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