‘Great Expectations’ is written by Charles Dickens and has many important characters and one of them is a very influential character and she is Miss Havisham. She brings the plot together and has a central position in the story. Dickens presents her in many ways: through her personality, her surroundings and her history.
Dickens first presents her in her house ‘Satis House’. The house is described as ’empty and disused’ showing the reader that Miss Havisham is all alone. Time in this house has stood still, symbolized by the clocks all reading twenty to nine, Miss Havisham some time ago in the distant past
stopped living her life. By wilfully stopping her life at a moment of pain and humiliation, she indulges her own anger, self-pity, and desire for revenge; she imagines her death as “the finished curse” upon the man who jilted her. Compeyson, her fiancé, left her at the altar on their wedding day. Her only objective in life is now to take revenge on all males. This is important as Miss Havisham takes revenge on men through her adopted daughter Estella who is told to break Pips heart as well as any other man’s heart. She is presented as a weak, psychologically scarred, old and abandoned woman because of what happened to her.
Dickens presents Miss Havisham as an ‘unreal’ character. She has only been wearing her wedding dress these many years, ‘she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white’ since her ‘wedding day’. This is because she has never gotten over the fact that Compeyson had left her on her wedding day.
Miss Havisham is portrayed as a wild, mentally fragile, sinister woman, in an effort to create an image in the reader’s mind of a woman who is physcologically damaged. In the 19th century there were many depressed people. Miss Havisham was rich: his makes her a character for whom we have sympathy.
She is presented to the reader in her dining room, as this is the room in the whole house which has all the wedding decorations. There is a rotting cake on the table and the entire room is covered in cobwebs; there is no light, ‘The most prominent object was…like a black fungus.’ This shows that she doesn’t really care about or care for anything other than herself and what had happened to her. She walks around the table, ‘She looked all around…Walk me, walk me!’, so that she is able to get Pip alone and talk to him about Estella, and maybe so that could just look at the table which makes her remember that day, wanting the memory to be kept alive, becoming more and more sinister as time goes by.
An impression of Miss Havisham is presented by Dickens through the words and the style in which he writes about her. “Her chest had dropped…under the weight of a crushing blow.” Dickens uses repetition of the word ‘dropped’. This illustrates that Miss Havisham has lost everything; also ‘dropped’ creates an image to the reader of a woman who is slumped and broken just waiting to die; someone who is mentally wounded. In addition that she has lost all hope, has low self-esteem, is becoming very depressed, and waiting to die. This description is important because it is the first impression Miss Havisham makes upon Pip and will be one that he always remembers.
Miss Havisham’s actions of encouragement and inviting Pip over to play, brings Pip and Estella closer but what she has planned for Estella is cruel and selfish. Miss Havisham requests Pip to play with Estella, but enjoys watching Estella mock and shame him. She is happiest when Pip falls in love with Estella, because then she can taunt him that he will never be good enough to have her. “Miss Havisham repeated, ‘If she tears your heart to pieces…love her, love her, love her!”, emphasising that he has to love her, trying to keep the image of Pip and Estella together in his brain. Miss Havisham wants Estella to break his heart. In the end, however Miss Havisham eventually sees that she has wanted to hurt Pip because she was hurt, and asks his forgiveness.
Miss Havisham plays an important role in Pip’s life, as when she leads Pip to believe that she is his benefactor. He found out it was not her, and when he told her he had found out who his benefactor was, she confessed to making him believe that she was his benefactor but then asked, ’But when I fell into the mistake… Who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?’ emphasising that she can do what she wants but also she acts like a child who is throwing a tantrum. She most likely has not acted in this way as Estella herself is surprised by her actions, ‘Estella glanced up at her in surprise’. Pip also believes that it is a part of Miss Havisham’s plan to pair him up with Estella however, when he finds out that she had lied he also realize that the plan does not exist. However, Miss Havisham does continue to give Herbert Pocket money to assure his place in the Clarriker firm after Pip’s request for this, ‘Miss Havisham, if you would spare the money to do my friend Herbert a lasting service in life’. Pip asks for this because this is the least that Miss Havisham can do for him and Pip knows that Herbert is in a lot of debt. When Pip meets her for the last time, Miss Havisham realizes her wrongs doings, she shows heartfelt sorrow, and attempts to make amends. She asks for forgiveness ‘dropped on her knees at my feet: with her folded hands raised to me’ showing that she surrendered mentally and physically.
The last time that is made known of in the novel is the time when she catches fire and become badly injured ‘I saw her running at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire blazing all about her’. Pip’s attempts to save her still even after what she has done to him but he at that time felt for her. Her burning would have been seen to symbolize her purification in the 19th Century.
In conclusion, I think that Miss Havisham is a very important character and has been presented by Dickens in a variety of ways. These are mainly presented in her personality, appearance and surroundings. She is a central character in the book because she brings together the two main characters.