The Theme of Revenge in Dickens’s Great Expectations
Revenge, by definition, is “the action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands”. People tend to believe that revenge is a form of justice, however, that is not always the case. In many different scenarios, people targeted by revenge and those seeking it will eventually experience either physical, mental, or emotional pain. Along with the themes of ambition, social class, and many others, revenge is a very prominent and constant recurring theme in the novel, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Throughout the novel, Dickens shows the negative aftermath of revenge and its impact that it has left on the lives of several individuals. He does this using multiple characters and storylines, each one being worse than the next. Dickens also discusses the idea of people feeling as though their acts of revenge are justified through multiple storylines. There are three main revenge plots that are carried out throughout most of the novel. The idea of revenge coming from the perspective of those targeted and those targeting will be shown in the examples of Miss. Havisham’s’ revenge on men, Magwitch’s’ revenge on the gentlemen, and Orlick’s revenge on Pip.
Revenge does not always lead to justice. In the Great Expectations, Miss. Havisham can, arguably, be seen as the most vengeful character. Miss. Havisham was a kind and very well mannered woman until she was jilted on her wedding day. Miss. Havisham was left destroyed and heartbroken. After that incident, she vowed never to love another man again and set out on a path of revenge against all men. Miss. Havisham did this because she wanted every man to feel abandoned and heartbroken, just as she did. Because of Miss. Havisham was unable to overcome her devastating past, her entire future was left altered. Miss. Havisham says a couple of alarming phrases that give the readers full insight into her personality and how truly deceiving her plans are against men. An example of this would be in chapter 12, p. 94 when Miss. Havisham says, “Break their hearts, my pride and hope, break their hearts and have no mercy!”. Another important quote would be when Miss. Havisham says “If she wounds you, love her. If she tears your heart to pieces—and as it gets older and stronger, it will tear deeper—love her, love her, love her!’ The two quotes correlate with each other because they both show her side of no remorse. The idea of Miss. Havisham encouraging such toxic love shows how she truly wanted men to suffer. Both quotes elaborate on the idea of Miss. Havisham using Estella as a form of her revenge. Estella is Miss. Havisham’s daughter. Miss. Havisham adopted Estella for the sole purpose of revenge and mending her broken heart. She also vigorously lived her life through Estella. This is evident when Miss. Havisham was, metaphorically, on Estella’s back within every relationship that Estella has made. Miss. Havisham ends up pushing Estella away from her completely and goes through immense pain when witnessing Pip go through the same rejection she did. At that moment, Miss. Havisham realized that her plan of revenge was defaulting from the start. Miss. Havisham is a prime example of lifelong revenge and internal torment going wrong. She spent all of her old age trying to heal her pain but instead, brought on nothing but more. In the novel, Miss. Havisham dies alone with no one who truly loves her, having made no real and true impact on society.
Acts of revenge are not always committed violently. In the Great Expectations, Abel Magwitch is a prime example of small acts of revenge completely altering an individual’s life. Abel Magwitch was first introduced to the readers as the convict in the early chapters. As the storyline progresses, the readers find out the Magwitch is Estella’s father. Magwitch is also a self-made man. He was able to make a fortune off of sheep-farming and ended up giving everything he earned to Pip. It is evident in the novel that Magwitch wants to be respected, earn society’s approval, and permanently remove his criminal status. Because Magwitch was so moved by Pip’s kind nature, Magwitch decided he wanted Pip to excel and live a life where he was at the top of the social class. Magwitch constantly used Pip as his emotional stability and support when times were tough. He wanted to live life through Pip and give Pip the experiences that he never had. Magwitch also wanted to succeed as an individual. He wanted to prove to society that he was fully capable of becoming a gentleman, however, because he was a criminal and of low social status, no one really believed in him. This upset Magwitch and set him on a trail to help someone else. This was Magwitch’s way to get back at the gentleman while also helping out someone else. Although he did end up positively benefiting pip with the money, he still ended up dying with his low status. In comparison to Miss. Havisham, Magwitch’s form of revenge was not made to truly bring pain onto anyone but was used as a way to prove himself and bring himself on a higher level on the social scale. His plans had no effect on the gentleman whatsoever and Magwitch ended up dead with nothing to his name.
Dolge Orlick is another example of revenge creating a monster. Orlick was a day laborer in Joe’s forge. He was viewed as lazy and purely evil. He constantly found amusement in putting people through pain. Orlick was jealous of the life Pip got to live and always believed Pip was the enemy. Orlick had pure and petty resentment towards Pip because he believed Pip made his life miserable. This is evident when Orlick confesses to Pip that he killed Mrs.Joe, Pip’s sister, and his plan to kill Pip in chapter 53. It was never Pip’s intentions to hurt Orlick but because Pip developed a better bond and attachment with Joe and Biddy, Orlick constantly felt betrayed by Pip and always felt as though he was second-best in comparison to Pip. The reader is aware of this when Orlick says ‘you were always in Old Orlick’s way since ever you was a child’. in chapter 53. Orlick believed that Pip ruined his chances with Biddy by feeding her false information about him when that wasn’t the case. In Orlick’s perspective, what he did is justified with the way that he was treated. Pip was largely targeted by Orlick in the past and in their current time. He was constantly malicious towards Pip at a younger age causing Pip to create a constant fear when around Orlick. This specific revenge plot really showcases the idea of revenge from the perspective of the one acting on it and the person being targeted by it. Because Orlick hates Pip, he was willing to target and harm Pip’s entire family. Although he brought some pain onto Pip, he never truly succeeded with his plans. Eventually, karma caught up to Orlick and he ended up in jail. <br><br>In society, the idea of revenge is glorified. People feel that it is a way one can bring justice and tranquility to their lives. Dickens shows the true consequences of revenge and the aftermath of it. The role of individuals taking revenge into their own hands plays a large theme in Great Expectations. Charles Dickens keeps revenge as one of the main and constant reoccurring themes in the novel. Dickens uses three different characters who are complete opposites yet similar in a very small but negative way to further showcase different forms of revenge.