Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Philip Pirrip, called Pip, an orphan and the unwanted ward of his harsh sister, Mrs. Joe. Although seemingly destined for a career as a blacksmith, he sees his fortunes improve after he meets a convict hiding in a graveyard. Afterward, through Miss Havisham, he meets Estella, the eccentric old woman’s lovely young ward. Thinking Miss Havisham is his benefactor, he goes to London to become a gentleman. Unfortunately for his peace of mind, he forgets who his true friends are. Finally, after Magwitch, the convict, dies and the Crown confiscates his fortune, Pip understands that good clothes, well-spoken English, and a generous allowance do not make one a gentleman.
Miss Havisham, a lonely, embittered old woman. When her lover jilted her at the altar, she refused ever to leave her gloomy chambers. Instead, she has devoted her life to vengeance. With careful indoctrination, she teaches Estella how to break men’s hearts. Just before her death, she begs Pip to forgive her cruelty.
Estella, Miss Havisham’s ward. Cold, aloof, unfeeling, she tries to warn Pip not to love her, for she is incapable of loving anyone; Miss Havisham has taught her too well. Years later, however, Pip meets her in the garden near the ruins of Satis House, Miss Havisham’s former home. She has lost her cool aloofness and found maturity. Pip realizes that they will never part...
(The entire section is 1097 words.)
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Estella is as beautiful and cultured as she is cold and brutal, and Pip immediately falls in love with her at a tender age. The daughter of Magwitch the convict, she is taken in by Miss Havisham from the age of three and taught to hate and mistreat men of all kinds, Pip among them. The more Pip loves her, the more Estella seems to enjoy torturing and manipulating him. She is from even lower stock in the class system than he is, and one might think she resents his intrusion into the life she has found among the wealthy.
Dickens doesn’t leave Estella so one-dimensional—he shows us the inner life of this girl who has herself been so tortured and twisted by a desire to be more than her station at birth. We get a sense that Estella struggles against the cruelty and shame she is made to endure; as she and Pip get older, she continually tells him she has no heart to spare his feelings and keep him from being as dependent on her as she has been on the heartless Miss Havisham. In so doing, Estella proves that she does have a heart, albeit a damaged one. Her marriage to Drummle prolongs her own agony, but near the end of the novel she learns the same lesson as Pip: Feelings can’t be suppressed enough to prevent us from feeling, and holding emotions back cripples us, as evidenced by Miss Havisham and Magwitch, among others. At the novel’s end Estella experiences her own kind of evolution, bent into what she hopes is a better shape that will allow her to undo some of the damage she has caused. Estella’s gradual change over the course of the novel has caused some critics to call her Dickens’ first truly developed female character.
Abel Magwitch, also know simply as "The Convict" is a career criminal at the beginning of the novel, with what seem like no redeeming qualities. He stalks Pip in the cemetery after escaping from prison as the novel opens; Pip’s resulting kindness melts his icy heart, and he becomes determined to emulate the self-improvement that tiny boy has devoted his own life to. Magwitch makes his fortune, secretly using his money to finance Pip’s education and lifestyle through Jaggers, elevating the boy into increasingly higher social circles. At the end of the novel, however, his crimes catch up to him and he is caught; like his daughter Estella, Magwitch has to come to terms with the damage he has caused.
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Themes and Characters
Philip Pirrip, known as Pip, is the story's central figure whose experiences symbolize the problems of growing up. Pip is reared by his unkind sister and her long-suffering husband Joe Gargery, the blacksmith to whom the boy is apprenticed. When Pip receives assistance from an unknown benefactor for his education as an English gentleman, he believes his patron to be Miss Havisham. He loves Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, Estella, and thinks the old woman is arranging for her to marry him. A revolution in his life occurs when Pip learns to his dismay that his benefactor is really the escaped convict Magwitch. He then realizes how false his dreams of social superiority and marriage with Estella have been. Magwitch is captured and dies in prison, and the Crown confiscates the wealth he intended for Pip. Humbled and lowered to the status of a minor clerk, Pip returns to his old friends in the village whom he has snobbishly abandoned. There he also encounters Estella.
Estella is the beautiful, haughtily distant girl whom Pip has adored and tried vainly to win as his wife. Unfortunately, Miss Havisham has twisted and warped her to despise and break the hearts of men. Although she has been a vision of all the glitter, social distinction, and respectability for which Pip yearns, he discovers that she is really the daughter of the convict Magwitch and Molly, Mr. Jaggers's housekeeper. Yet he still cannot forget her. Years later when they meet again, Estella has...
(The entire section is 791 words.)
Arthur, Miss Havisham's suitor who once jilted her, has fallen in with the villainous Compeyson and his schemes. However, unlike Compeyson, Arthur has a conscience; he dreams of Miss Havisham dressed in white at his bedside and dies of fright. He and Compeyson had once schemed to get Miss Havisham's fortune, but at the last moment, with the wedding cake on the table and Miss Havisham dressed in her bridal finery, Arthur jilted her, presumably on an attempt at her fortune that he could not carry through.
The gentle, loving, soft-spoken, wise, and efficient Biddy is Pip's tutor before Mrs. Joe is injured and Biddy moves into the Gargery home to take care of the house. After Mrs. Joe dies, she and Joe Gargery marry. Pip, who at one point tells Biddy that he might be interested in marrying her if it weren't for her lowly social status, later comes to realize that Biddy's true worth as a person far outshines any artificial class distinctions.
Compeyson is the scoundrel who arranges Miss Havisham's affair with Arthur. He also testifies in court against Magwitch in an earlier scheme that failed, after which Magwitch is banished from England and exiled to Australia. A coward, he breaks the old rule of "honor among thieves." Compeyson is the second escaped convict that is out on the marsh the night that Pip first meets Magwitch, and he eventually dies fighting...
(The entire section is 3312 words.)