Pip: Philip "Pip" Pirrip, is the narrator and protagonist of the story. A unique aspect of Great Expectations is that we are really treated to two different Pips: The older, reflective Pip,telling us his story, and also the young Pip, whom the older version of himself encapsulates brilliantly, creating a sense that Pip is encountering many of these endeavors for the first time, just as the readers are. It is also no coincidence that Dickens chose a palindrome for his protagonist's name. The name Pip, and Pirrip, is a reflection of the development in character that Pip experiences:his humble beginnings as a boy who selflessly helps a convict, to the introduction of his Expectations and his change character for the worse, and finally to his realization to what his Expectations really are and his final shift back to the selfless, loving character he is at the beginning of the story. The biggest issue for Pip is his ability to know what is right and which decisions he makes, and yet still pressuring himself to make the wrong decisions (a quality that young Pip would probably have a hard time articulating. It is where the reader really gets a sense of older Pip's reflection of himself through his retelling of his tale).
- I would not have gone back to Joe now, I would not have gone back to Biddy now, for any consideration: simply, I suppose, because my sense of my own worthless conduct to them was greater than every consideration. No wisdom on earth could have given me the comfort that I should have derived from their simplicity and fidelity; but I could never, never, never, undo what I had done. (323)
- For now my repugnance to him had all melted away, and in the hunted, wounded, shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously, towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe. (446)
Discussion Question: How does the older Pip narrating affect the overall narrative his younger self travels?
Estella: Estella was adopted as Miss Havinsham's highly admired, but depressingly unattainable ward. Though all that meets-the-eye requirements reflect the upper-class:beauty, grace, and love, Estella is very cold, distant, and all together unhappy with her current lifestyle. Her beauty is brought up countless times throughout the novel, as to suggest that beauty is her only real asset. Though Pip doesn't see this, he is blindly in love with her and sets about his life so as to attract Estella. Estella manipulates Pip into believing he's constantly unfit for civil society because of his upbringing, as a way to protect her true social position. As she creates an imaginary divide between herself and Pip, we learn Estella's real father is Magwitch. She knows little about the world, because she was hid from these circumstances as a child. Just as Pip had no real parents, neither does Estella.
- "If you had brought up your adopted daughter wholly in the dark confinement of these rooms, and had never let her know that there was such a thing as the daylight by which she has never once seen your face--if you had done that, and then, for a purpose had wanted her to understand the daylight and know all about it, you would have been disappointed and angry?" (306).
Discussion Question:Which ending better suits the Estella that Pip has narrated for the reader?
Miss. Havisham: Miss Havisham is the wealthy bachelorette who adopted Estella and is the assumed patron who has brought Pip into his “great expectations”. She has a huge influence upon Pip’s life because she is the sole reason he is obsessed with Estella and it is because of her (and Estella) that he strives to be a gentleman in the wealthy, upper class world of London. Miss Havisham owns the large mansion, called "Satis House", that is stuck in time; the time being when Miss Havisham was abandoned on her wedding day by her fiancé precisely at “twenty minutes to nine” (Dickens, pp.80) and since that day has never “‘looked upon the light of day’” (Dickens, pp.182). Miss Havisham has no indication of time and of what day of the week it is since that event transpired,which is indicative of her character. ‘I am tired,’ said Miss Havisham. ‘I want diversion, and I have done with men and women. Play’ (Dickens, pp.59). It is believed that since that tragic day, she has hated all of man and is plotting to get her revenge against men.
- “But I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its luster, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone” (57-58).
Discussion Question:Does Miss Havisham truly find redemption?
Biddy: Biddy is portrayed as a stark contrast to Estella. She is generally well-liked by the reader and Pip, though both find it difficult as to why Pip doesn't love her over Estella. Biddy is Pip's teacher earlier in the novel, and is always a good listener and mentor to him. She is more established than Pip and suggests to the shallow way of Pip that it certainly is possible to be proud without great wealth or status. From time to time, mocking Pip's fixation with materialism, wealth and status, Biddy knows that Pip has actually digressed.
- "Because, it is to spite her. . . I should think--but you know best-- that might be better and more independently done by caring nothing for her words. And if it is to gain her over, I should think-but you know best-she was not worth gaining over." (129)
- "Have you never considered that he may be proud? . . .He may be too proud to let any one tack him out of a place that he is competent to fill ,and fills well and with respect. To tell you the truth, I think he is: though it sounds bold in me to say so, for you must know him far better than I do."(149).
Discussion Question:In what ways would Biddy better serve as romantic interest for Pip,compared to somebody like Estella?
Joe: Joe is the definition of a lower, working class male in the novel Great Expectations. He is brother-in-law to the main character Pip and husband to the overbearing, abusive Mrs. Joe (Pip’s sister). While he is classified as the village’s blacksmith who strongly lacks a proper education and unrefined upbringing, he is without a doubt, one of the most kind-hearted characters in the novel that readers. He is constantly bossed around by his abusive wife, but continues to care for her and love her. In addition, while Pip and him share a bond unlike that of most brother-in-laws, but more as friends, he sadly loses that closeness once Pip pursues greater expectations. Joe is one of the few characters that remains consistent in the novel, regardless of the situation or certain occurrences. He lacks a strong voice at times, but his huge heart and willingness to work and make due with his given circumstances makes up for it.
- “Whatever I acquired, I tried to impart to Joe. This statement sounds so well, that I cannot in my conscience let it pass unexplained. I wanted to make Joe less ignorant and common, that he might be worthier of my society and less open to Estella’s reproach” (109).
- "By degrees she led me into more temperate talk, and she told me how Joe loved me and how Joe never complained of anything – she didn’t say, of me; she had no need; I knew what she meant – but ever did his duty in his way of life, with a strong hand, a quiet tongue, and a gentle heart” (284).
Discussion Question:Joe is constantly Pip's anchor to what his real expectations should be. In what ways does Joe keep Pip grounded?
Mrs. Joe: Pip’s overbearing and abusive sister and Joe’s wife. Mrs. Joe is best characterized in the opening few chapters of the book, then later becomes a vegetable, lacking any real voice or sense of character. However, Mrs. Joe is clearly a woman with power in the household, which was uncommon in this time period. She is constantly on Joe and Pip’s case, antagonizing them for every little detail they do. She insists upon having a clean household and wishes for everything to be in order. She possesses a cane, which is called the “Tickler” and uses it on Pip and Joe to further signify her power in the household. However, all that negativeness aside, Mrs. Joe’s bite isn’t as bad as her bark. It is clear that Mrs. Joe is simply looking out for Pip and trying to raise him to the best of her ability, instilling good behavior on him.
- “My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap. She was tall and bony, and almost always worse a coarse apron, fastened over her figure behind with two loops, and having a square impregnable bib in front, that was struck full of pins and needles. She made it a powerful merit in herself, and a strong reproach against Joe, that she wore this apron so much. Though I really see no reason why she should have worn it at all: or why, if she did wear it at all, she should have not taken if off, every day of her life” (8).
Jaggers: He is one of the many mysterious, nameless characters that Pip meets early on in the book, and then resurfaces as an overly pertinent character, serving numerous roles in the novel. First, he is seen as one of the most important criminal lawyers in all of London. While he is certainly good at his job, he takes his duties as a lawyer far too seriously, largely drawing a fine line between work and play. He has a menacing persona that makes all of those around him absolutely terrified of him. In addition, he is seen constantly washing his hands obsessively after trials, which alludes to the fact that he is trying to rid (or cleanse) himself of criminal taint. However, he also serves as Pip’s so-called “guardian” and cares for him. It is Jaggers who first informs Pip of his great expectations and his rise to the upper class.
- “Though he called me Mr. Pip, and began rather to make up to me, he still could not get rid of a certain air of bullying suspicion; and even now he occasionally shut his eyes and threw his finger at me while he spoke, as much as to express that he knew all kinds of things to my disparagement, if he only chose to mention them. […] There is already lodged in my hands, a sum of money amply sufficient for your suitable education and maintenance. You will please consider me your guardian”(139).
- "If anybody wouldn’t make an admission, he said, “Now I have got you!” The magistrates shivered under a single bite of his finer. Thieves and thief-takers hung in dread rapture on his words, and shrank when a hair of his eyebrows turned in their direction. Which side he was on I couldn’t make out, for he seemed to me to be grinding the whole place in a mill; […]” (202).
Herbert Pocket: Like Jaggers, Herbert is one of the many mysterious characters that Pip meets early on in the novel, but is only characterized as the “pale, young gentleman.” Although it is Estella’s doing, Pip challenges Herbert in a fight at Satis House where the two first encounter one another. However, to Herbert’s dismay, he ends up losing to Pip and that is the last we see of Herbert for several years. It isn’t until Pip first learns of his fortune from Jaggers, that the two meet again in London where Pip learns Herbert’s true identity. The two instantly hit it off, becoming best friends throughout the novel. It is Herbert who gives Pip the nickname “Handel” and is able to successfully teach him the proper etiquette and mannerisms of a true gentleman. Herbert and Pip remain good friends throughout the novel, both proving to bring out the best in each other.
- “Herbert Pocket had a frank and easy way with him that was very taking. I had never seen anyone then, and I have never seen anyone since, who more strongly expressed to me, in every look and tone, a natural incapacity to do anything secret and mean. There was something wonderfully hopeful about his general air, and something that at the same time whispered to me he would never be very successful or rich. I don’t know how this was. I became imbued with the notion on that first occasion before we sat down to dinner, but I cannot define by what means” (177-178)
Abel Magwitch (Pip's convict): The frightening criminal that terrorizes Pip in the cemetery as the novel opens. He is compelled, after Pip returns to him with food and supplies and shows kindness towards him, to become the secret benefactor of Pip. He travels to Australia, where he gains his fortune, and works with the lawyer Jaggers to get the money to Pip and to have him raised like a “gentleman”. He risks his freedom and life in the end on his journey back to England just to see the newly created “gentleman” Pip.
- “When one of ‘em says to another, ‘He was a convict, a few years ago, and is a ignorant common fellow now, for all he’s lucky,’ what do I say? I says to myself, ‘If I ain’t a gentleman, nor ain’t yet got no learning, I’m the owner of such. All on you owns stock and land; which on you owns a brought-up London gentleman?’” (321).
Discussion Question:Magwitch tells Pip he became a convict out of necessity to live, unlike Compeyson, who was pure evil. Do crimes committed out of dire need carry less guilt with them than other crimes?