Great Expectationsdoes not contain only a single antagonist. Instead, multiple characters serve as figures that Pip must struggle against. Dickens separates these characters into two groups, redeemed antagonists and innately evil ones.
The wealthy dowager, Miss Havisham, belongs to the first group of antagonists. Fueled with vengeance from a broken heart, she adopts Estella and raises her as a weapon against men. She teaches her adopted daughter to “break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy" (116) Ð “their" referring to the opposite sex. Her love life motivates her revenge and her revenge plagues her mind. Miss Havisham, stuck in a vindictive attitude, never moves beyond heartbreak, shown by the stopped clocks at Satis House, the wearing of one shoe, and the aging wedding apparel. Revenge becomes an obsession, blinding her from seeing the pain she has inflicted upon Pip and Estella. By Chapter 49 Havisham realizes the repercussions of her actions and in agony of remorse cries out “'What have I done! What have I done...What have I done!'" (398). Pip reacts to her cries of despair by admitting that he
knew not how to answer, or how to comfort her. That she had done a grievous thing in taking an impressionable child to mould into the form that her wild resentment, spurned affection, and wounded pride, found vengeance in, I knew full well. But that in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. And could I look upon her without compassion, seeing her punishment in the ruin she was, in her profound unfitness for this earth on which she was placed, in the vanity of penitence, the vanity of remorse, the vanity of unworthiness, and other monstrous vanities that have been curses in this world? [399; Place within the complete text of the novel]
Pip's reaction to Miss Havisham's catharsis alludes to the possibility of spiritual redemption. Though Pip forgives Miss Havisham for the enormity of pain she inflicts, not all Dickens' antagonists achieve redemption. Characters who fall into the second group, include Orlick, Drummle, and Compeyson; all three embody evil and have no self-recognition, and hence, no motive for redemption. Thus the idea that “the end justifies the means" embodies these antagonists' monstrous motives as evil follows them to their graves.
1. In the passage above, Pip admits that he “knew not how to answer or comfort" Havisham, but a few lines down he admits to knowing “full well" about vengeance and knowing “equally well" about repelling God. Why does Dickens frame the passage in this way? Is this a comment on human development? Perhaps more importantly, do you think this is Pip the character speaking or more of Dickens' interjection? Why would Dickens place a question mark at the end of the paragraph? What is he asking?
2. Do you think Pip is not only talking about Miss Havisham but himself well? If so, can we say that Pip views himself much like the “impressionable child" Estella was? Does Pip pity himself because his background?
3. Is the quoted excerpt more similar to something Mr. Brocklehurst, of Jane Eyre, would say? Why does the quote carry the same type of sermon-like quality similar to Mr. Brocklehurst's form of speaking?
4. Victorians did not cnsider Dickens a particularly religious novelist. How then can we classify him now in contrast to a Victorian perspective? Would he be considered a conventional Christian or just a writer with good morals?
5. How does Dickens approach faith differently than Tennyson does in In Memoriam?
Last modified 23 February 2008