Different portrayals of women in Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations"

Essay by ochibi February 2006

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In "Great Expectations", the virtuous/vixenish dichotomy is mainly explored through Estella, one of the main female characters in the novel, and also through Miss Havisham, who brought her up from the age of 3, and Biddy, a simple country girl.

Estella begins the novel as "vixenish" character, brought up by Miss Havisham to be so. She is cold, cynical and manipulative, trained to grow up to break the hearts of men. She hurts Pip and crush his feelings continuously, and the audience picks up on these qualities and dislikes her. Unlike the warm, honest and kind heroine that readers would sympathise with, Estella is the exact opposite, and viewed as "vixenish".

Miss Havisham also begins as a "vixenish" character, who trained Estella to be the girl she's growing up to be, and delights in the way Estella break Pip's heart. Dickens justifies her actions by later explaining that Miss Havisham was jilted by her lover minutes before their marriage, and from then on hated men, wishing to hurt them as they did her, and although we dislike her actions and see her as vixenish, the audience is positioned to feel sorry for her.

In contrast to the pervious two, Biddy is plain and simple, but she is also kind-hearted and befriends Pip, helping him better his education. Although she comes from the poor, labour class, she is kind and moral, the opposite of Estella, who is beautiful and cold. Because of her admirable qualities, the audience is supposed to like Biddy, the virtuous one.

However, Dickens shows that all is not so clear-cut and that the virtuous/vixenish dichotomy is not so clearly defined as the novel draws to a close. Estella, after an abusive and unhappy marriage, repents of her former sins and realises her mistakes.