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Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations Essay

1438 words - 6 pages

The perennial pursuit of humankind is finding and establishing a unique identity while still maintaining enough in common with others to avoid isolation. This is the central pursuit of many of the characters in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and it shapes the way that characters feel and interact in profound ways. Those who are certain of their selfhood are the most successful, and the acquisition of an identity is fundamental to achieve happiness and satisfaction for characters in Great Expectations.
Miss Havisham, perpetually unhappy, is a woman who is stuck in the past. She once had a sense of who she was, but after being abandoned by her fiancé, she can’t move on. From that moment forward, she is only seen in ““a long white veil” and a “splendid” wedding dress, with “but one shoe on” (Dickens, 143). Havisham lives in a blend of fantasy and reality, in both the past and the present. Her inability to move on interferes with her identity because the world around her changes continually while she makes an effort to stay the same. She no longer knows who she is, and the resulting emotional trauma hinders her ability to empathize. Her lack of empathy negatively affects how she interacts with people, especially Estella. Miss Havisham believes she is God, and uses her influence to breed Estella into a numb, unfeeling heartbreak machine. Miss Havisham’s self-proclaimed purpose is to make Estella “break [men’s] hearts and have no mercy”, in an enraged revenge plot to get back at the universe for her misfortune (Dickens, 238). Miss Havisham lives in a world far from reality, and cannot accept who she is or the circumstances that she finds herself in. As a result, she is heinous, vengeful, and malicious in every action she performs, and is the most miserable person in the entire novel.
Contrasting the miserable personality of Miss Havisham is the intricate and diverse personality of Mr. Wemmick. Mr. Wemmick is a man who understands that to successfully be a “bureaucratic modern man”, work life and home life should be separate, and he alters his own personality to fit either situation (Cohen, 68). Wemmick is described as a dull, “dry man” when he is in the London office, though at home, Wemmick will “smoke a pipe” and be in “great spirits” (Dickens, 421, 514). Wemmick is very secure in his identity. He knows what his job is, and changes himself to accommodate his line of work. This, mixed with his carefree personality at home, provides him with a balanced life. Wemmick is content with his job, walking proudly among the convicts he has helped “much as a gardener might walk among his plants” (Dickens, 643). Wemmick is also happy in his personal sphere, proudly “present[ing] [Pip] to [his lover] Miss Skiffins” (Dickens, 726). In both sections of his segmented life, Wemmick is accomplished and proud. He is “among Dickens’ most successful [split characters]” (Lecker, 699). His identity, although multifaceted, is well established and very clear. For...

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