As a bildungsroman novel, the book develops its characters around the protagonist, Pip, whose full name is Philip Pirrip. Pip is the most important character in the novel, and his action determines the plot development in the book. He is the narrator of the novel, who shapes the reader’s perception through his thoughts and ideas (Ankhi 108). Consequently, the reader can make an important step towards understanding the novel through Pip’s character (The Literature Network). Since Pip is narrating his story several years after the events took place, there are two Pips in the novel: the narrator who tells the story and the character who acts it out. The author takes a great care to distinguish between the narrator and the actor. He depicts the narrator with perception and maturity while imparting Pip’s character and his feelings of what is happening to him as it actually happens (Brian 5).
This skillful execution comes out at the beginning of the book, when Pip the character is a kid. Pip the narrator makes fun of his younger self. Through the character of Pip, the reader is able to see and feel the story (Brian 6). Through his character, Pip depicts some of his important traits like being immature, impractical romantic, and having innately good perception of the wrong and the right. On the other hand, Pip depicts a great desire to improve him in order to achieve any possible advancement. For instance, when Pip becomes a man, he begins to act in a manner he thinks a man should act. This leads him to treat Joe and Biddy with snobbish and cold character. As a character, he is a sympathetic and generous young man to the characters he portrays throughout the novel. For example, he secretly helps Magwitch, shows love to everyone, and buys Herbert’s ways into business (Ankhi 112).
One of the most convincing female characters in the novel is Estella. This character depicts extreme irony. Even though she undermines and bitterly criticizes the idea of romantic love, the same idea she criticizes catches up with her. Miss Havisham raises Estella from the age of three. She torments men to break to their hearts. As a result, he wins the deepest love of Pip by practicing deliberate cruelty (The Literature Network). Estella depicts a cold, pessimistic, and manipulative character. Even though she fits the admiration of Pip about the ideal life among the upper class, in the real sense, she belongs to lower-born class than Pip does. Towards the end of the novel, Pip realizes that Estella is the daughter of Magwitch, who is rude criminal. Instead of marrying Pip who is a caring commoner, she ends up marrying Drummle who is a cruel nobleman. Drummle treats Estella harshly and end up making her miserable for several years. The author uses the relationship between Estella and Drummle to assert that there is no deep connection between an individual’s well-being and happiness and one’s social class (The Literature Network).
Another important character is Miss Havisham, a wealthy woman who lives in a decaying mansion and wears an old wedding dress on a daily basis (Brian 7). The author portrays the character as mad and vengeful. The book defines Miss Havisham’s life by a single disastrous event: her break up with Compeyson during their wedding day. Since then, Miss Havisham developed a determination never to go beyond her heartbreak. She wears only one shoe because she learned about the break up news when she had worn only one shoe. She remains in her wedding dress because she had put it on during the jilt. She stops all the clocks in the house twenty minutes to nine because that is the first time she learnt of the jilt. She adopts and raises Estella as a weapon to achieve her goal of revenge on men (The Literature Network). This is evidence when Estella hurts Pip. At the end of the novel, Miss Havisham realizes that she is responsible for Pip’s heartbreak similar to her experience. Instead of achieving personal revenge, she adds more pain to herself and begs Pip for forgiveness (Ankhi 133).
- Ankhi Mukherjee. "Missed Encounters: Repetition, Rewriting, And Contemporary Returns To Charles Dickens's Great Expectations." Contemporary Literature, 2005, 46(1), 108-133. Print.
- Brian, McFarlane. Review of Charles Dickens' Great Expectation. Oxford: Oxford Book Co., 2008. Print.
- The Literature Network. Summary: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Online Literature Publication. Web. http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/greatexpectations/.