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In Great Expectations, Miss Havisham is shown to be a broken woman. When Compeyson abandoned her on their wedding day for her money she became grief stricken, trapped in the moment of her lover’s betrayal. Through the use of fire as symbolism, Miss Havisham is able to display her withering away of life, her intent of revenge, and eventual return to understanding.
Traumatized by Compeyson’s actions, Miss Havisham wears her wedding dress and one shoe everyday with her clock set to 8:40 as remembrance to the moment of her unfortunate discovery. In her house her candles are blown out symbolizing how she is withering away though time even though life has moved on past that fateful moment. Since fire creates light, burnt out candles leave a room in darkness. As such she is in a dark stage of her life unable to see that time has moved on.
Driven by rage she raises Estella to seek revenge on men by fooling them to the last moment before marriage. The idea of false appearances become a motif for Miss Havisham. When her family comes to visit for her birthday, her candles are lit. Although normally never lit she uses this fire to mask her true intentions because she believes emotions shared between people are fake and that there are ulterior motives. This is transferred onto how she wants Estella to put on a fake love show for Pip before ditching him at the altar and completing her revenge against men.
Despite this, Miss Havisham comes around realizing what she did was wrong. In an act of self-repentance she lights her wedding dress on fire. This use of fire as a destructive tool represents the removal of her previous vengeful thoughts through the burning of her wedding dress. Although the injuries suffered lead to her death, this use of fire symbolizes a release of the pain that burdened her through all these years. The idea of a fire being alive in a place that normally had its candles burnt out additionally signifies a moving on towards a new life. Just as fire burns upwards, Miss Havisham’s spirit is likewise lifted.
Fire serves a critical role in Great Expectations because it is an emotion carrier. A lack of fire reflects Miss Havisham’s darkness in thought while a bright flame masks her deceit. At the same time fire proves to be a source of retribution as she sees to end her life with fire as a way to release the grief and burn away traces of her haunting past.
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