Estella in Great Expectations


Just like Pip, Estella is an orphan and is subject to abuse by her adoptive mother, Miss Havisham. In Estella's case it is psychological rather than physical abuse. She is brought up to despise men but to use her beauty to attract them and then break their hearts. Pip is possibly the first of her victims. Although only a child herself, she ridicules his background and lack of education. When she grows older, however, she seems to have developed a soft spot for Pip. She repeatedly warns him that she cannot love him in return but he will not listen.

Estella's upbringing means she becomes cold and cruel. Dickens makes it clear that Estella behaves as she does only because of her upbringing, so the reader is sympathetic towards her.

Estella enters into a disastrous and abusive marriage with Bentley Drummle. When he is killed she becomes a widow, free to associate with Pip once more.

How is Estella like this?EvidenceAnalysis
AttractiveEstella is spoiled and Miss Havisham lavishes her with possessions – particularly jewellery. She uses this to literally attract men to her."Moths and all sorts of ugly creatures," replied Estella with a glance towards him, "hover about a lighted candle. Can the candle help it?"Just as a candle flame will destroy a moth, so Estella uses her attractiveness to destroy men's hearts. The glance she gives Pip as she says this suggests that he too is one of these 'creatures'.
SpitefulWhen they are children Estella mocks Pip for his common background, his speech, manners and appearance. She almost certainly marries Bentley Drummle out of pure spite."He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!" said Estella with disdain, before our first game was out. "And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots!"Despite having only just met Pip, Estella thinks nothing of insulting someone who is a guest in her home. She repeatedly calls Pip 'boy' in order to demonstrate her superiority though she is only a girl herself. She also makes nasty comments about his hands and boots.
HonestEstella tells the truth even when it is hurtful to others. She makes her motivations plain to Pip on a number of occasions but he will not listen to the truth."Do you want me then," said Estella, turning suddenly with a fixed and serious, if not angry, look, "to deceive and entrap you?"Estella uses the words 'entrap' and 'deceive' as a clear warning to Pip. In a sense he wants to be captured by her but he cannot see that it will do him no good.
A victimEstella has been psychologically abused by Miss Havisham's upbringing and ends the book with little but her looks, her fine clothes and her jewellery. There is a hint that she and Pip will be a couple but there's nothing certain about it."I have not bestowed my tenderness anywhere. I have never had any such thing."Estella has had everything that money can buy but she has had all of feelings bred out of her and cannot understand how to love another; not Pip, not Miss Havisham, not even herself.

Analysing the evidence

"So," said Estella, "I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me."

How has Estella come to be the person she is?

How to analyse the quote:

'"So," said Estella, "I must be taken as I have been made. The success is not mine, the failure is not mine, but the two together make me."'

  • 'must' - this indicates the depth of Estella's feelings
  • 'success"/"failure' - the two words are direct opposites
  • 'made'/'make' - the near repetition strongly reinforces the idea that Estella is the creation of another

How to use this in an essay:

If Estella had remained with her birth parents, she would have been brought up as the daughter of a convicted criminal (Magwitch) and a woman accused of murder (Molly); however she might very well have been better for it. Instead, she is sent for adoption and is brought up by Miss Havisham who manipulates her and deforms her character. By the time we meet Estella in the novel, she is cruel and heartless and seemingly unable to make good choices for herself. Estella eventually turns on Miss Havisham and the near repetition of 'made' and 'make' strongly reinforces the idea that Estella is the creation of another. She obviously feels intensely about what has happened to her and uses the word 'must' to indicate the depth of her feelings. However, she takes no responsibility for the 'success' or 'failure' of Miss Havisham's experiment.