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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTER 8

Dickens begins this chapter with a satiric portrait of
Pumblechook, a crass merchant who keeps his seeds (a symbol
of life) shut away. The only breakfast conversation he can
think of is to call out sums for Pip to do. He and the other
merchants on the street are obsessed with business; this is Pip's
welcome to life in the big town, Rochester.

Then we come to the meat of the chapter: Pip's introduction to
Miss Havisham. Her house is barred outside, like a prison, and
a beautiful girl, Estella, appears with the keys to it. When she's
rude to Pumblechook, she immediately appears powerful to
Pip. She taunts Pip, too, but from the first moment he is awed
by her beauty, her poise, and her superior manner.

Outside, the grounds are empty, windy, and overgrown; inside,
the house is unnaturally dark, lit only by Estella's candle. Then
Pip enters Miss Havisham's room-entirely candlelit, even in
daytime, which would be a wild extravagance in those days
before electricity. Pip's vision slowly travels around the
unfamiliar furnishings, until it halts, shocked, at Miss
Havisham, seated by her dressing-table mirror.



NOTE: THE MIRROR
The mirror not only symbolizes her vanity, it also gives us a
double image of her to look at. Pip describes her twice: the
first time, all white and elegant-though the white hair feels
strange-but the second time, all withered and grotesque.
Perhaps the horrible side of it can't sink in at first; or maybe
Dickens wants us to see the vision of youth and beauty shrivel
before our eyes.

Pip compares Miss Havisham to a skeleton, using a child's
symbol of death to get at the impression she makes of being
opposed to life. The other important impression is that time is
frozen here; she seems in the middle of busy preparations, and
yet the clocks have all stopped at 20 minutes to nine.

Miss Havisham deliberately tries to shock Pip, as she
commands him to play. But for once, Pip is honest; he's as
polite to her as he was to the convict, but he knows he cannot
play here, now. (Remember what a serious, unplayful child he
is.) Estella returns to play cards with Pip. But the real game is
just beginning. Estella insults him over and over; Miss
Havisham gleefully probes Pip, to discover that, humiliated as
he is, he's already fatally attracted to the girl.

Pip plays into Miss Havisham's scheme as perfectly as if he
had been coached for it. He seems to let himself be sucked into
this bizarre atmosphere. He's young, highly impressionable,
and hasn't developed much moral judgment-so it's no surprise
that he falls immediately, unquestioningly, under the spell of
Satis House. Miss Havisham may be corpse-like and
frightening, but remember, Pip is a boy who grew up in a
cemetery.

Daylight hits Pip hard, but he doesn't see the world in its
former light. He cries when Estella leaves him, not because
he's weak, but because this place has affected him so strongly.
His older-self narrator for once doesn't blame him, but explains
how he could not help being such a sensitive child. He gets a
view of the brewery now (note that Miss Havisham is from a
commercial fortune, not nobility, and the sour smell of beer is
like a taint on her money).

Pip's overwrought imagination shows him Estella's image
everywhere. When she walks on the empty casks in the
brewery, it's like another hallucination, the way she floats,
disdainful and solitary, above the ground. But inseparable from
this beautiful figure is the grotesque figure of Miss Havisham
which Pip imagines, hanging by the neck. Romance and horror
are yoked together here, just as comedy and tragedy are
elsewhere. When Pip finally leaves, he's unbearably depressed.
With the convict, his guilt was over a real deed; now his self-
doubt is vaguer, more general-and a lot more intense.

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