Adopted by Miss Havisham at a young age, Estella never gets an opportunity to forge her own identity. Raising Estella as a tool to avenge her broken heart, Miss Havisham objectifies her into a beautiful doll that she can mold. Described through gestures and little physical detail, Estella has no individualized physical presence in the novel. Pip tells the reader that she is beautiful but does not describe her, and the reader knows Estella only through her hand motions or shining eyes. With this unusual lack of a physical description, the text constructs Estella as if she has no individual essence and instead simply represents a mosaic of gestures and phrases. Paralleling Miss Havisham's view of her, this portrayal of Estella, which creates her more as an object rather than a person, constructs her as a valuable commodity because of her beauty. Describing an encounter between Miss Havisham and Estella, Pip observes that the older woman
hung upon Estella's beauty, hung upon her words, hung upon her gestures, and sat mumbling her own trembling fingers while she looked at her, as though she were devouring the beautiful creature she reared. (38, 320)i
Rather than seeing Estella as a whole person, Miss Havisham objectifies her by breaking her into the separate pieces that together create her vehicle of revenge. Referring to Estella as a “beautiful creature," Pip shows how Miss Havisham has transformed Estella from a person into an object whose value comes from its beauty. Pip's notion that Miss Havisham appears to want to devour Estella illustrates Miss Havisham's position of ownership over Estella and the damage her influence causes her daughter.
Desiring to avenge her broken heart, Miss Havisham uses Estella as a tool to torture men. According to Gail Turley Houston, by molding Estella into this tool, Miss Havisham constructs her as a commodity whose value comes from her alluring sexuality:
In producing Estella to take revenge on the men who took public and economic advantage of her private sexual desires Miss Havisham only succeeds in duplicating the experience for her own adoptive daughter, making the girl a thing to be bartered in the marriage market. (158)
Houston's use of the words “thing," “bartered," and “market" shows how Miss Havisham's warping of Estella's sexuality causes the reader to view her as an economic entity. Explaining to Pip that they “are not free to follow their own devices" (33, 285), Estella shows that she defines herself as Miss Havisham's creation. She forms her identity according to the pieces Miss Havisham values in her.
Similarly, by using jewelry to portray Estella, Great Expectations forges the link between sexuality and economics. Remarking on the beautiful jewelry Miss Havisham puts on Estella whenever he visits, Pip says, “Miss Havisham watched us all the time, directed my attention to Estella's beauty, and made me notice the more by tying jewels on Estella's breast and hair" (11, 118). Miss Havisham uses the jewelry to objectify Estella and call attention to her sexuality. Both beautiful and valuable, the jewels illustrate the connection between economics and sexuality. The economic value associated with the jewels enhances Estella's beauty. The jewelry imagery follows Estella throughout the novel progressing with her telling Pip, “I am to write to [Miss Havisham] constantly, and see her regularly, and report how I go on - I and the jewels- for they are nearly all mine now" (33, 290). Estella speaks as if the jewels are part of herself. Pip and Miss Havisham construct Estella like the jewels - beautiful, valuable, and cold. Knowing the connection between economics and sexuality, Miss Havisham, in completing her creation, gives Estella all the jewels. Analogous to the jewelry, Estella's value as a potential lover comes from her beauty and her wealth.The citations for Great Expectations include chapter number followed by the page number in the Penguin classics paperback edition (see bibliography).
Last modified 1996