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Great Expectations Character Analysis


In this bildungsroman (the literary term for a story tracking a character’s life story), Pip transforms from young and impressionable, to entitled and ambitious, to finally self-aware.

As the protagonist of Great Expectations (first published in serial form between 1860 and 1861), the orphaned Pip lives in fear of his sister using the tickler as punishment. Dickens intended to show the oppression faced by many within Victorian society.

Lacking love and affection, Pip’s early character is vulnerable. He starts the novel with insufficient education and a lowly status, living his “childhood out on our lonely marshes…”. Charles Dickens was successful at creating detailed characters whose function was to show nineteenth-century hardships experienced by many at the time. The novel is written from Pip’s first-person narration.

When at Satis House, the young Pip becomes sharply aware of social class distinctions. He develops feelings for Estella, but is tormented by the social barriers between them:

“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”

The repetition stresses the overwhelming feelings that Pip had for Estella, whilst the list of abstract nouns (“reason…peace, hope”) is possibly symbolic of Pip’s unattainable wishes.

Through his mysterious benefactor, Pip’s life changes drastically; he becomes a gentleman in London. This newfound wealth, however, is riddled with moral dilemmas. He alienates from his former friends; spends lavishly, and falls recklessly into debt.

It is famously known that Dickens’ own Father had to go to prison for debt. The story later reveals that Pip’s fortune was a result of complicated events – and a token of gratitude from criminal Abel Magwitch. In the end, Pip declares of his choices:

“I could never, never, never undo what I had done.”

Miss Havisham

Dickens methodically explores themes of love, betrayal and societal constraints through the character of Miss Havisham. Even though the writer chooses to depict her as “immensely rich,” and in the same sentence describes her as a “grim old lady…who led a life of seclusion.” Dickens often critiqued wealth in his novels, painting ‘rich’ characters as greedy and lonely.

Miss Havisham’s character is symbolic of revenge and disappointment, having been abandoned at the altar, and Dickens signifies this through the continual wearing of her wedding dress. As a result, Miss Havisham is portrayed as a manipulative character, moulding Estella to become a woman who will “break hearts” (mainly Pip’s!)


Estella’s upbringing is presented as cold and hard. Adopted by Miss Havisham, Estella is taught to show contempt towards men and is told by her guardian to “beggar him.” This phrase has a dual meaning: it is both literal, referring to defeating him in the game they are playing, and metaphorical, referring to impoverishing or ruining him in life, making him socially and emotionally destitute. Estella later warns Pip about her cold and hardened nature, asserting:

“I have no softness, there—no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense.”

Joe Gargery

A Father figure to Pip, Joe’s character shows kindness throughout the novel. This is demonstrated early on, such as when he protects Pip from a beating in Chapter 2. Mr Gargery is quietly loyal, paying off Pip’s debt, and Pip comes to more sincerely appreciate Joe. This is demonstrated by his repeated endearment, “dear old chap.”

In terms of the novel’s structure, Dickens provides happiness for Joe’s character by the end, finishing the novel by rewarding human qualities of decency, kindness and morality. He is able to help Pip become honest, warning him that the “father of lies… work round to the same. Don’t you tell no more of them, Pip.”

Like the readers, Pip comes to see that working hard as a blacksmith, like Joe, probably would have led to better personal outcomes. The ‘blacksmith’ (a job working with metal) symbolises stability and strength. Dickens seemed to consistently champion the diligent working class.


Learning Magwitch was his real patron, Pip’s dialogue expresses horror:

“the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible beast.”

Magwitch’s pivotal character transforms from being a dangerous criminal, to one who evokes sympathy from the readers.

One of the writer’s methods is repetition, reflected in Pip’s change in sentiment about Magwitch:

“My repugnance to him had melted away.”

Charles Dickens was troubled by the increase in violence and crime in his society; he proposed the root cause of this was poverty. Dickens writes in a didactic (educational) tone throughout the novel, to put forward his negative stance on the class system.


Biddy aids Pip on his journey to realisation. She is set in contrast to Estella, as she genuinely cares for Pip. Pip observes how she “looked far more attentively at me than she had looked at the sailing ships.”


Jaggers, a ruthless lawyer managing Pip’s inheritance, represents the flaws and complications of Victorian England’s legal system. “dismal” is the description Dickens continually assigns to Jaggers. And “dismal” is the picture Dickens paints.

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