The Identity of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
Charles Dickens was a writer whose style of characterization was unlike that of any other writer during his time. Dickens was gifted with being able to create characters who have unique traits, personalities, complexities and flaws. For example, in the novel Great Expectations, first published in 1861, Dickens is able to create a world in which the characters have complex personalities and character traits, most of them seeming to stem from psychological roots.
The character of Miss Havisham is one of the characters to whom Dickens is able to give a very complex and interesting personality. When Pip first meets Miss Havisham, She was dressed in rich materials…all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white….She had not quite finished dressing, for she had one shoe on- the other was on the table near her hand- her veil was but half arranged…. (p.87).
In addition, all the clocks in the room had been stopped at the time of twenty minutes to nine. This is a very interesting way of life, and we find out later in the novel that Miss Havisham had been jilted on her wedding day, receiving the note from her fianc calling the wedding off at exactly twenty minutes to nine. Dickens way of writing about Miss Havisham is also very indicative of his extreme talent for characterization. His writing takes on a melancholy tone when he speaks of Miss Havisham. …everything…which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow…the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. (p.87) This passage seems to exude the essence of Miss Havisham s existence- what once was new and beautiful has now become old, withered, and decaying, the remains of what used to be.
Miss Havisham uses the character of Estella as a personal pawn in her giant game of chess against men. Dickens is very good at being able to create Miss Havisham as a cruel and calculating individual whose main focus in life is making the lives of the people around her, especially men, miserable. Because she was abandoned on her wedding day, she feels that all men should have to pay for the pain and suffering she has endured throughout many years. This shows the extreme amount of talent that Dickens has because he was able to create a character with actions that seem inexplicable when first seen, but which can be explained by reading on in the book.
Another character to whom Dickens is able to give life and meaning is Joe Gargery, the unfortunate husband of Pip s sister. A very mild man in nature, Joe is constantly demeaned and belittled by his wife, who most likely forced him to marry her. When describing Joe, Dickens says Joe was a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue that they seemed to have somehow got mixed with their own whites. He was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow- a sort of Hercules in strength, and also in weakness. (p.40) Dickens seems to change his tone when writing with each new character. While the tone with Miss Havisham is melancholy, Dickens describes Joe in a sweet and flattering manner which seems to suit his personality. Joe as a character is an extremely nice and gentle person who is always willing to help Pip or anyone else who else is in need of his help. Although he isn t extremely smart or knowledgeable, Joe is good at what he does and takes great pride in his work. He spends long hours each day at the forge perfecting each piece of iron, and finds great pleasure in his trade.
In spite of Joe s strengths, he also has some weaknesses. For example, he allows Mrs. Joe, his wife, to treat him as though he was her slave or child rather than her husband. As a direct consequence, he is very afraid to stand up for himself and will let people commit injustices towards him without so much as saying a word on his own behalf. However, when Joe goes to see Pip in the city after he has become a gentleman, Pip treats him very badly and rudely, as though Joe had never done anything for him throughout all those years they had lived together with the haunting presence of Mrs. Joe. As Joe is rising to leave, he comes forth with a great speech detailing his feelings at that moment. …life is made of ever so many partings welded together…and one man s a blacksmith, and one s a whitesmith, and one s a goldsmith, and one s a coppersmith. Diwisions among such must come, and must be met as they come…you and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends…you won t find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in hand, or even my pipe. You won t find half so much fault in me if, supposing as you should ever wish to see me, you come and put your head in at the forge window and see Joe the blacksmith, there, at the old anvil, in the old burnt apron, sticking to the old work. (p.246)
Dickens was able to allow Joe to speak his feelings without sounding too forthright and bold. Dickens also uses dialect in his language to create a more in depth character. Dickens style of writing provides a complete character. He uses the pasts of the characters to explain their actions, and uses in depth details to describe their appearances and background. This provides the reader with a stronger grasp on the overall meaning of the book and a greater insight into the lives of the characters.
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