Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 49–50 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 49

Pip goes to Satis House and visits Miss Havisham in the room with the decaying wedding cake. Miss Havisham asks Pip to explain how she could complete an act he had started to help Herbert. Pip notices that Miss Havisham regards him with fear. Pip explains how she can anonymously assist Herbert. Miss Havisham tells Pip to regard his request as being completed and asks if she can do anything more directly to help him. Pip says he wants nothing more. Miss Havisham writes on a tablet directions for Jaggers to provide the necessary funds to complete Herbert's business arrangements.

Miss Havisham asks Pip, "If you can ever write under my name, 'I forgive her,' though ever so long after my broken heart is dust—pray do it!" Pip says he can do it now. Miss Havisham falls to her knees before Pip and raises her folded hands to him. She then slumps to the floor, crying in despair, "What have I done! What have I done!" Pip assures Miss Havisham that he would have fallen in love with Estella under any circumstances. However, he says if she could somehow undo some of the harm she has done to Estella to please do so. Consumed by remorse, Miss Havisham explains that she at first wanted to save Estella from having her heart broken and nothing more. However, as Estella became more beautiful, Miss Havisham "stole her heart away and put ice in its place." Miss Havisham has no idea who Estella's natural parents are. She told Jaggers she wanted a child to raise and love, and the lawyer gave her a two- or three-year-old child named Estella. For Pip this information verifies that Molly is Estella's mother.

Pip takes a walk around the garden and brewery, remembering the times he spent with Estella. When he returns to the large room, he sees a burst of flame where Miss Havisham sits. Then the woman rushes toward Pip with her dress on fire. Using his coat Pip puts out the flames. The doctor arrives and lays Miss Havisham on the long table at the spot where she said she would lie when dead. The doctor asserts that shock has done more harm to Miss Havisham than the flames. Then Pip notices that his own hands have been burned. As she lies on the table, Miss Havisham keeps lamenting over what she has done, how she at first wanted to love Estella, and for Pip to forgive her.

Chapter 50

Herbert carefully changes the bandages on Pip's burned hands and arms. While doing this Herbert explains that Magwitch had relations with a woman who ended up murdering another woman in a jealous rage. Then Magwitch's woman threatened to destroy their child. Magwitch loved this child. Therefore, during the trial Magwitch kept a low profile for fear he would be called to testify and, as a result, cause his child to be destroyed. Jaggers got the woman acquitted. Soon afterward the woman and child disappeared. After Herbert relates this story, Pip tells him that Magwitch is Estella's father.

Analysis

In Chapter 49 Dickens develops the theme of guilt and redemption through Miss Havisham and Pip. As mentioned earlier, Miss Havisham realizes that she has been entrapped by her creations—Estella and Satis House. Miss Havisham planned to raise young Estella with love, but the recluse's bitter anger poisoned the child, causing her to become unloving like her adopted mother. Because of her cold attitude, Estella has broken Miss Havisham's heart again. This pain makes Miss Havisham realize the folly of her actions. She has not protected herself, and, what is worse, she has not protected Estella from pain and sorrow. Instead, because of Miss Havisham's influence, Estella has married the brute Drummle, who will give her years of unhappiness. Also Miss Havisham realizes she has broken Pip's heart. Consumed by guilt for her actions, Miss Havisham seeks redemption by asking Pip for forgiveness.

For his part Pip does a redemptive act through his willingness to forgive Miss Havisham. Despite the pain Miss Havisham has caused him, Pip becomes vulnerable again by showing kindness to her. However, burdened by years of bitterness and hatred, Miss Havisham has difficulty accepting his forgiveness. She remains brooding over the fire, entrapped by the bitter chains she created. As a symbol representing death, Satis House fittingly leads directly to Miss Havisham's dress catching on fire and her eventual death. Flames from the fireplace most likely caught on her dress.

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