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Miss Havisham’s Personal Prison (Literary Analysis)

In the book Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens, many of the characters have personal prison, whether literal or emotional. Prison by definition is any place of confinement or involuntary restraint. Miss Havisham secludes herself voluntarily in Satis House, ensured to stay there by her guards of humiliation and heartache; she herself makes her prison that of involuntary restraint. Trapped in the past, the day of her wedding when her heart was shattered, Miss Havisham lives in a personal prison of her own creation, forced to stay by her removal of reality, by not changing time, by her emotions, and by her home.

Miss Havisham’s personal prison can be described through the passing of time. Miss Havisham, by those who live near her, think of her as virtually a ghost. From the day of her ill-fated marriage, where she was jilted at the altar, she has not shown her face to society. Through the passing of time, it can be seen that Miss Havisham has be confined in a place for a very long time, like a prison. “‘Look at me. You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?’” (58). Pip at the time of the quote is about 11 years old. Miss Havisham by not seeing the sun in at least 11 years means that she has not left her house in that long, like a prisoner kept in prison. When Pip goes to visit Miss Havisham for the first time, he notices that all of the clocks are stopped at 9:20, this in actuality is Miss Havisham stopping time by keeping the clock remaining at the day of her wedding “It was then I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped a, like the watch and clock, a long time ago” (60). . Time is a form of imprisonment for Miss Havisham, because it keeps her from moving on past the emotions of pain, leaving her imprisoned in them. Miss Havisham has not let things change from the time of her nuptials, but has tried to freeze it and stay unchanging. By doing this she is locked away herself in the past like a prison.

Another illustration of Miss Havisham’s personal prison, is the place of her confinement. Satis House where Miss Havisham lives, to Pip seems like a dark gloomy place he describes it as, “Miss Havisham's house, which was of old brick and dismal, and had a great many iron bars to it. Some of the windows had been walled up; of those that remained, all the lower were rustily barred” (55). Satis House resembles a prison, dark, barred, and few windows. Miss Havisham has turned her home into a prison, it has been neglected and bars those from within and from those out. Like Miss Havisham’s own healing has been neglected, Satis House also represents Miss Havisham’s state of mind. Miss Havisham has barred both her exterior (Satis House), and her emotions, by neglecting them and not moving past them.


Last Miss Havisham’s personal prison can also be described by her emotional state. Miss Havisham has been in her personal prison since she was jilted and betrayed by the conman Compeyson, who she thought loved her. Her emotions keep her in her personal prison. Miss Havisham does not let her emotions of betrayal and humiliation go, virtually leaving herself in this state, and the humiliation keeping her from the public eye, and the betrayal closing her heart.

But that, in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased, as all minds do and must and will that reverse the appointed order of their Maker; I knew equally well. (465.49. Volume III)

From Miss Havisham being in her personal prison she has lost a part of herself and the seclusion has made her crazy and even more locked in her mind. Miss Havisham’s internal conflict with her emotions are what keep her from moving on from the heart break, and keep her attached to her personal resentment that acts as her prison.


Miss Havisham’s personal prison is combined by and strengthened by her refusal to let time pass, her neglected home, and her neglected and confined emotions. All these examples together are what keep her in her self-inflicted confinement. Her refusal to forget the past, always reliving the day of her jilted wedding, and not acknowledging any change. Her neglect of her home, its bar in literal sense like that of a prison, in metaphorical sense neglected like her heart. Her heart imprisoned by humiliation causing her to be afraid of the world, and betrayal locking her heart. Unlike a criminal Miss Havisham is not locked away for her crimes, but by her past. Miss Havisham’s personal prison is from herself. She has made what was once her home into a prison, her emotions have made her mind a prison, and her refusal to accept reality in the passage of time has kept her locked in a prison of her creation.



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