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 again.
Joe Gargery, Pip’s brother-in-law. Even though he is married to the worst tempered of women, Mrs. Joe, he manages to retain his gentle simplicity and his selfless love for Pip. After he marries Biddy, he finds the domestic bliss that he so richly deserves.
Mrs. Georgiana Maria Gargery
Mrs. Georgiana Maria Gargery, commonly called Mrs. Joe, Pip’s vituperative sister, who berates and misuses him and Joe with impunity. When she verbally assails Joe’s helper, Orlick, she makes a mortal enemy who causes her death with the blow of a hammer. Later he tries to do the same for Pip.
Abel Magwitch, alias Mr. Provis, Pip’s benefactor. When Pip helps him, an escaped convict, Magwitch promises to repay the debt. Transported to New South Wales, he eventually makes a large fortune as a sheep farmer. When he returns illegally to England years later, the escaped felon reveals himself as Pip’s real patron. Casting off his distaste, Pip finds a real affection for the rough old man and attempts to get him safely out of England before the law apprehends him once more. Recaptured, Magwitch dies in prison.
(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.
Miss Havisham begins and ends Great Expectations as a victim, but hardly the sympathetic kind....
(The entire section is 1051 words.)