“So!” she said, without being startled or surprised; “the days have worn away, have they?”
“Yes, ma’am. To-day is —”
“There, there, there!” with the impatient movement of her fingers. “I don’t want to know. Are you ready to play?”
“I was obliged to answer in some confusion, “I don’t think I am, ma’am”.
“Not at cards again?” she demanded, with a searching look.
“Yes, ma’am; I could do that, if I was wanted”.
“Since this house strikes you old and grave, boy,” said Miss Havisham, impatiently, “and you are unwilling to play, are you willing to work?”
I could answer this inquiry with a better heart than I had been able to find for the other question, and I said I was quite willing”.
The Satis House is the emblematic place of contradiction. A site of continuity and discontinuity. A scenario of the preparation for life and the stagnation of life. Pip and Miss Havisham hang on a spectrum, whose edges go from joviality and naivety to dullness and stasis, respectively. However, they do share something in common: both of their lives have been deeply affected by great expectations.
In the passage that I selected above, Pip is visiting Miss Havisham one more time. We can see the torpidity in Miss Havisham’s behavior, because she asks about the quick passing of time without being surprised. However, now that she has Pip as a visitor, her stasis transforms itself in impatience or even eagerness. She wants Pip to play again with her and Estella. The conversations are short and straightforward. Miss Havisham insists on playing with Pip, even after he said he didn’t think he was ready to play. She suggests then that he should work with her, and he agrees. Some moments after this passage, Pip goes inside the party room, where there is a rotten wedding cake. Everything is in a state of putrefaction in the room: no air, no sun, an excess of yellowish fabric everywhere, worn by time.
Miss Havisham was hours away of getting married when her husband-to-be abandons her. Time has stopped for her, because she stopped seeing meaning in life. She was in love, she wanted to build a happy life alongside her future spouse, but her great expectations were broken by the unpredictable hands of fate. She wants Pip to play with her as a way of compensating for the lust she missed. She wants Pip to work (and that means, going around the cake table many times with her), because she wants to imagine what it would have been like if the party had actually happened. She doesn’t want to face reality, she is forever stuck in time, wondering and wandering, projecting her own hypothetical scenario towards Pip.
Pip is in the Satis House, but, in opposition to Miss Havisham, he is being prepared for his great expectations. He gladly wants to work, and he even considered playing again, although not being that willing. The house works differently for Pip: its stagnation doesn’t affect him, and it actually represents a rite of passage. He goes several times to the mansion, and slowly learns about love, sexuality, masculinity and the labor world.
Both characters expect change in their lives, but both are carried away by unpredictable events. Miss Havisham had great expectations for her life after her marriage, but they didn’t happen. Pip has great expectations (he wants to live a different life from the one he has in the countryside), and he is suddenly taken to the Satis house, being subjected to adults’ decisions. This space, so gothic, represents the unpredictability and mystery of life, in a society which praised science and rationalism. Dickens ultimately wanted the Victorian reader, who was excited to this fresh, revigorated thinking, to be aware of life’s randomness.