Estella Havisham Essay Contest

Riverside Dickens Festival High School Essay Contest 2018

The festival this year is once again sponsoring an essay contest for high school writers.  Prizes of $100, $50, and $25 are available for entries judged worthy of an award. The essay contest is intended to encourage literacy through reading Dickens with thought and expression on the relevance of his works to a larger historical context for social issues.  The high school essay is based on the reading of Great Expectations.



The topic for the high school essay is as follows:

In the novel Great Expectations, things are not what they seem.Discuss how the theme of “expectations” is illustrated by and through the characters.  How are Pip’s expectations different from and similar to those of Joe Gargery, Miss Havisham, Estella and Magwitch?



General Information and Rules:

Entries are limited to students who reside in and are schooled in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Only typed or word processed entries will be accepted.  Essays must be 1,000 or fewer words.  (A maximum of four typewritten pages of 10 or 12-point type).  Before submission to the Festival for judging, entries should be proofread carefully by the student to correct errors in mechanics, diction, structure, and phrasing.

Additionally, all direct quotation, summary or paraphrase of outside researched materials must be referenced with citation and documentation of the source through an accepted format (MLA or APA).  Quotes from Dickens should cite the chapter and page number.  Failure to do so results in plagiarism, which is basis for immediate disqualification of the essay for consideration.

It is recommended for teachers to assign Great Expectations for reading and discussion in class and to assign and evaluate an essay to encourage, provide feedback, and prepare the student for the essay contest.   

Entries should be submitted by mail, addressed to High School Essay Contest, Riverside Dickens Festival. P.O. Box 113, Riverside, CA 92502-0113, postmarked no later than Friday, December 22, 2017.

Awards will be announced and presented Saturday, February 24, 2018 during the Festival in downtown Riverside.  Winners will be notified in advance.

No information identifying the essayist and his or her school should be on the essay.  However, the following information must be attached to each entry on a separate 8 ½ by 11-inch sheet of paper:

  • Writer’s name, age, grade, school, class in which contest entry was created (e.g. English, language arts, or home room).
  • Teacher’s complete name, school telephone number and classroom extension where appropriate, and email address.
  • A non-school telephone number that will be used only if necessary to notify a winner.

All entries become the property of the Riverside Dickens Festival, Inc. and will not be returned.  Winners and their parents or guardians agree that their pictures and names may be used in Riverside Dickens Festival promotional materials and publications.

Judging will be based on originality in addressing the contest topic and skill of presentation, both creative and technical.

Judges may decide not to award a prize if they deem there is no entry of sufficient merit.

For additional information, call (951) 781-3168.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
Main Part

2. The significance of Estella’s and Pip’s backgrounds
2.1. Estella: object of other people’s plans
2.2. Pip: helpless victim or self-deceiver?

3. The nature of Pip’s and Estella’s relationship

4. The significance of the two endings

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Pip’s love for the cold-hearted beauty Estella is one of the main themes of Dickens’ Great Expectations and Pip’s main motivation for becoming a gentleman. Throughout the novel Estella seems ever present even when she is miles away. His expectations and aspirations are all linked in some way to his desire for her.

Pip’s obsession with Estella is somewhat confusing for today’s readers, since this relationship is clearly one-sided and “[…] against reason, […] against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”[1] (S. 229)

In his essay I will describe the nature of their relationship. It is going to analyse what it is that attracts Pip to Estella. This means we are going to discuss if Pip’s feelings towards Estella are, at all, of a romantic nature, or if there are other forced at work.

I will further show that social and economic aspects play a vital role in their relationship. We are thus going to have a closer look at the background and the upbringing of both characters, in order to clarify in how far the factors that I have mentioned above determine Pip and Estella’s relationship.

Lastly I will compare the two endings and see how the conflict between Pip’s naïve aspirations and the somewhat less romantic reality is resolved in each.

2. The significance of Estella’s and Pip’s backgrounds

2.1. Estella- object of other people’s plans

“Break their hearts my pride and hope, break their hearts, and have no mercy!” (S.93)

Estella, adopted by Miss Havisham at an early age, has been moulded by the old woman into an instrument to “avenge her [Miss Havisham’s] broken heart.”[2]

Estella has, in fact, two mothers: the murderess Molly and the vindictive old Miss Havisham. Although both women differ tremendously as to their social status and personal history, they have one thing in common: both women are in their own way revengeful and ruthless. In the case of Estella’s biological mother this is quite obvious since she not only commits a murder out of jealousy but also uses her daughter to inflict the worst imaginable pain upon the child’s father.

Estella’s foster mother proves to be incapable of loving the little girl and uses her to wreak revenge upon the world of men. With these two mothers Estella appears to be destined of becoming a similarly cruel woman.

The little girl is thus brought up in a dark and dingy place, where everything seems to rot away, and where there is no room for anything but melancholy and contempt for the outside world. Growing up in such cold and hostile surroundings has made Estella into what she is. It has led to the suppression of emotions and a deep-rooted indifference towards other people’s feelings.

Shortly before she dies Miss Havisham confesses: “[…] I stole her heart away and put ice in its place.” (S. 394)

Although Pip refuses to believe Estella’s warnings that she has no heart, the reader finds it no great surprise that she seems indeed void of such feelings as love and compassion. She never has the opportunity to “forge her own identity”[3], she has “[…] no choice but to obey [her] instructions.” (S. 261).In this cruel scheme Pip is a mere guinea pig for Estella to practice her heart-breaking skills on. Miss Havisham who “[…]wanted a little girl to love and save from [her] fate” ( S. 396) decided to call her Estella which is Spanish for “star”. In this sense, the beautiful girl is raised to be just as cold and unattainable as the sparkling but ever distant star in the nocturnal sky: “From their first meeting […] Pip’s attraction for Estella is bound to a sense of her inaccessibility.”[4]

Pip expresses this feeling of distance on his first visit to Miss Havisham’s:

Though she called me “boy” so often, and with a carelessness that was far from complimentary, she was of about my own age. She seemed much older than I, of course, being a girl and beautiful and self-possessed; and she was as scornful of me as if she had been one-and-twenty, and a queen. (S. 54)

And, later on he expresses the pain induced by this emotion as follows:

There was no discrepancy of years between us, to remove her far from me; we were of nearly the same age […]; but the air of inaccessibility which her beauty and her manner gave her, tormented me in the midst of my delight […] Wretched boy! (S. 236)

And, when Herbert asks Pip: “[…] Have you any idea of Estella’s views on the adoration question?” ( S 245) Pip answers: “Oh! She is thousands of miles away from me.” ( ebd.) After Miss Havisham’s teachings are completed Estella is sent to Paris to receive the final fine-tuning required to make a perfect lady of high-society.

After Estella’s return from Paris Miss Havisham presents her to Pip as if she were an award-winning mare.

“Hear me, Pip! I adopted her to be loved. I bred her and educated her to be loved. I developed her into what she is, that she might be loved. Love her!” (S. 237).Ironically enough, true love is the one thing Estella will never receive, neither through her biological nor her foster mother, and least of all her husband.

Even Pip is, as I am going to show, not truly interested in what is best for Estella, but in what is best for himself. He knows that Estella does not love him but this does not affect his determination to one day call her his. Despite her reluctance to be intimate with him both physically and emotionally he carries on regarding her as the fairly earned “prize” ( S. 298) for his services to the old lady. From his very language we can see that he does not consider Estella as an individual in her own right with personal wants and needs, but as an object, something that has been “assigned” ( ebd.) to him.

Although Pip is aware that Estella is not emotionally interested in him he goes on believing that she will change her mind

“‘I love her, I love her, I love her!’ Then, a burst of gratitude came upon me, that she should be destined for me, once the blacksmith’s boy. Then, I thought, if she were, as I feared, by no means rapturously grateful for that destiny yet, when would she begin to be interested in me? When should I awaken the heart within her that was mute and sleeping now?” (S. 241)

And, even if she does not this would not be reason enough for Pip to drop his plans of a future life with her for, as I am going to show later on in this essay, in those moments when Pip allows himself to be honest to himself he is well aware that his love for Estella can only end in tears.

2.2. Pip: helpless victim or self-deceiver?

Like Estella, Pip grows up in a place where he is often not allowed to act as a child. In Estella’s case the lack of childish play and affection is due to Miss Havisham’s plans for Estella which can only be achieved carried out through training the girl form an early age. The reasons for Pip’s unhappy childhood are somewhat different. Living with his extremely dominant and irascible sister and his kind but submissive brother-in-law, he longs for a warm home, to shelter and protect him from a dangerous and unforgiving world.


[1] Dickens, Charles. 1994. Great Expectations.Introduction: Margaret Cardwell. Oxford: OUP (Oxford’s Word Classics).

[2] Rao,Maya. ”Miss Havisham's Objectification of Estella”.

[3] Rao,Maya. “Miss Havisham's Objectification of Estella”.

[4] Hutter, Albert D. “Crime and Fantasy in Great Expectations” . In: Critical Essays on Great Expectations. S. 114

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