he first time Pip visits Satis House, he and Estella play a game of cards. This remarkable scene encapsulates the entire progression of Pip and Estella's relationship within one page employing a game with a game comparable to Hamlet's play within a play. After Miss Havisham convinces Estella to play cards with Pip by suggesting that Estella “can break his heart," Estella asks Pip which card games he knows how to play. “Nothing but beggar my neighbor, miss," Pip replies.
Estella deals the cards, wins the first game, and then it's Pip's turn.
I misdealt, as was only natural, when I knew she was lying in wait for me to do wrong; and she denounced me for a stupid, clumsy laboring-boy." As the reader soon realizes, these anxieties Pip holds regarding Estella are not limited to this particular card game. After Miss Havisham asks Pip what he thinks of Estella and he expresses the wish to go home, Miss Havisham decrees, “You shall go soon . . . Play the game out." Once again, the language of the scenes echoes the action of the story, as Pip plays the game out until the end of the scene and the end of the novel. We even get Pip's impressions of Estella's attitude towards him, not only in the card game, but in life. “I played the game to the end with Estella, and she beggared me. She threw the cards down on the table when she had won them all, as if she despised them for having been won of me. [Place within the complete text of the novel]
1. Miss Havisham persuades Estella to play with Pip by making the encounter into challenge. Are all of Estella actions throughout the novel motivated by similar types of provocation?
2. The definition of the verb beggar: “(1) to reduce to utter poverty; impoverish (2) to cause one's resources of or ability for (description, comparison, etc.) to seem poor or inadequate." By introducing Pip and Estella to each other through the medium of a card game, Dickens sets up an immediate power imbalance between the two characters. According to the results of the card game, Estella is poised to win the “real" game she and Pip play throughout the novel. But in the end, does Estella really win? Or does Pip? Is Estella as disgusted to have won Pip's love at the end of the novel as she is to have won his cards at the end of the game?
3. This action of this scene heavily foreshadows one plotline of Great Expectations. To what degree do George MacDonald and Charlotte Brontë foreshadow events in their novels? More broadly, to what extent does foreshadowing affect the reader's experience of the text?
4. What are the rules of Beggar My Neighbor? [See Wikipedia article] Would knowing the rules allow Victorian readers to extend the Dickens' model for Pip and Estella's relationship trajectory and even further?
Last modified 24 February 2008