What are some of the character traits of Pip and Estella from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As the protagonist of a bildungsroman (novel of maturation), Pip undergoes several changes in his character, so a number of traits apply to him; however, Estella remains a rather static personage and cannot easily be described as having numerous character traits. 

Pip's character traits:

  1. forlorn - Pip is an orphan; when he is introduced into the narrative, he stands looking at the tombs of his parents, who are both dead.
  2. fearful - Pip is terrified by the man in "coarse gray with a great iron on his leg." He is also very afraid of his sister Mrs. Joe, who whips him all the time. After he steals the food for the prisoner, Pip fears retribution for his theft when he is found out.
  3. intimidated - Pip is browbeaten by his Uncle Pumblechook who always chastises him, "Be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand." Later on, Pip is intimidated by the bizarre Miss Havisham and the cruel Estella, who mocks him.
  4. ashamed - When Pip is spoken of as "coarse and common" by Estella, who does not want to play with such a "common laboring boy," he returns home wishing that he were someone else. Later, he is ashamed of Joe's illiteracy and country manners when his friend visits him in London.
  5. deceptive - Pip lies about his visit to Satis House because he fears that his sister would whip him if he tells how strange Miss Havisham really is. Later, as a young man, Pip puts on airs and pretends to be above Joe in social status.
  6. dissatisfied - After his visit to Satis House, Pip wishes he were not so "common" and low class, and that he could become a gentleman.
  7. hypocritical - After he goes to London, Pip wants to feel superior to Joe and the people back on the march. He stays at the Boar's Inn rather than with Joe when he returns to visit Estella.
  8. rejected - Pip desperately loves Estella and her rejection stings.
  9. pretentious - When Pip becomes a gentleman, he puts on airs as he talks with Biddy in Chapter XVII, telling her he is "disgusted" with his calling, having seen the hypocrisy in the upper classes. However, when he says that he wishes he had just become partners with Joe and he might have "grown up to keep company" with Biddy, the sense of superiority comes through with his pretentious remark, "I should have been good enough for you, shouldn't I, Biddy?" 
  10. alienated - Pip expresses the feelings of being "caged and threatened" wherever he goes. Divisions come between him and Joe, between him and the increasingly cold Estella, and he feels lost in his new life, disappointed in the frivolousness and hypocrisy of the upper class as exemplified by the foolish Belinda Pocket.
  11. guilty - Since he was a boy, Pip has carried a sense of guilt: he has been ashamed of stealing food for the convict; he has been ashamed of his treatment of Joe when the man visited him in London; he has been ashamed of how he has spoken to Biddy; he becomes ashamed of his repulsion of Magwitch when the convict visits him one night at his lodgings in London.
  12. charitable - Pip asks Miss Havisham for money to establish Herbert in a job.
  13. compensatory - Pip wishes to make amends for his arrogant and selfish behavior toward Magwitch, Joe, and Biddy. He tries to help Magwitch get out of London, but Magwitch is injured in the escape attempt. Still, Pip stays with the man and comforts him in his dying hour. He returns to the forge and apologizes to Joe and Biddy.
  14. regretful - Pip wishes that he recognized the futility of loving Estella. He returns to Miss Havisham and expresses his regret, and Miss Havisham begs him to forgive her for her cruelty to Pip.
  15. romantic - Despite Estella's cruelty, Pip holds onto his romanticized vision of Estella until his final meeting with her.

Estella's character traits:

  1. beautiful - With a name that means "star," Estella is a remarkably pretty girl.
  2. proud - Estella has a sense of superiority instilled in her by Miss Havisham as she is told that she is beautiful and above others. She speaks to Uncle Pumblechook as though he were a servant, and she disparages Pip in his presence.
  3. haughty - Estella ridicules Pip, calling him "coarse and common" and refusing to place herself with someone beneath her.
  4. heartless - Estella displays no human feelings for Pip even after they have known each other for years. She even tells Pip, "I have no heart." 
  5. contemptuous - Estella gives food to Pip on the first visit as though he were a dog, placing the mug on the stones "as insolently as if I were a dog in disgrace."
  6. condescending - In Chapter XXIX, when Pip visits her after she has gone away to school, he remarks, "She treated me as a boy still."
  7. willful - Pip also describes her in Chapter XXIX as "Proud and wilful as of old" as a young adult. Estella does as she pleases; despite Pip's warnings about Bentley Drummle's boorishness, Estella still goes with him.
  8. impatient - As she grows older, Estella displays a lack of concern and tolerance for the attentions of Miss Havisham. "[She] rather endured that fierce affection than accepted or returned it," Pip observes about her.
  9. cruel - Raised to be the instrument of revenge for Miss Havisham against the male race, Estella is even uncaring and unfeeling toward her adoptive mother, breaking the heart of Miss Havisham, who laments, "But to be proud to me!"
  10. indifferent - Estella has no concern for anyone else's feelings.
  11. cold - When she rejects Miss Havisham, the pitiful old woman reproaches her, "You stock and stone! ...You cold, cold heart!" Because Estella is brought up to be so cold, she has no feeling for anyone and is incapable of loving.
  12. abused - At the novel's end, Pip re-encounters Estella, who has married Drummle and become a victim of his cruel nature, having been physically abused.
  13. changed - After she has married Drummle, Estella has become the victim of cruelty and her role changes drastically.
  14. reformed - In this last meeting, Estella says that she has been "bent and broken," but, hopefully, into a better shape.
  15. a friend - She promises Pip friendship that "will continue apart."
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althair's profile pic

althair | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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This is among my favorite novels and is the novel I think best serves as an introduction to reading Dickens.  Just to add a few ideas to the excellent answer above, here's a few things to think about:

Very early in the novel, at the Christmas dinner, Uncle Pumblechook (what a great name for a character who is a bit of a jerk) tells Pip to especially "be grateful, boy, to them which brought you up by hand" (chapter 4).  This is really a supreme example of Dickens's genius, because the reader has by now divined that Pip is an abused child, somewhat protected by Joe, but psychologically and physically abused by his sister.  And the "by hand" expression, which Mrs. Joe brags of constantly, comes to mean specifically by beating you.  So the reader sees this advice from Pumblechook, whom I have already described as a pompous rear portion of your anatomy (all right, I just said "jerk" earlier) as asking Pip to be grateful to those who are beating him!  However, that is just irony; that is not the ingenious part.  It is not long in the novel before Pip goes to visit Miss Havisham and meets Estella, and starting almost immediately, he becomes ashamed of his family's working class existence.  This becomes infinitely worse once Pip receives news of his great expectations and expected fortune from a secret benefactor; he is now, as a young "gentleman," utterly ashamed of his home and family.  THIS IS THE KEY TO THE NOVEL, WHAT I CALL "THE THEME OF PIP'S INGRATITUDE."  It is the lesson Pip must learn in the course of the novel: to be grateful to those who brought him up--by hand or otherwise!  We see the theme cemented in the latter portion of the novel when Pip is not grateful to his secret benefactor, and is indeed ashamed of him once he learns who that benefactor really is.  And again, in the novel's final chapters, when Pip has gone bankrupt and is sick, it is good old Joe who nurses him back to health and even pays off his remaining debts.  Before the novel is over Pip has indeed learned to be grateful to both his benefactor and to Joe and Biddy.  It is worth noting how Biddy describes Mrs. Joe's dying moments: 

And so she presently said "Joe" again, and once, "Pardon," and once "Pip." And so she never lifted her head up any more. . . . (chapter 35)

What Dickens has done, rather cleverly, is hide from the less observant by separating the words and capitalizing each of them that these last words of Mrs. Joe's form a sentence!  "Joe, forgive Pip."  The theme is that Joe is to forgive Pip for the sin of his ingratitude, for not writing, not visiting, being ashamed of his family.  

As for Estella, I need only attempt to connect a few of the ideas presented above.  Her name means "star" and she carries a candle while leading Pip through the dark rooms like a star in the darkness.  In fact, Dickens wants us to get the star symbolism and so, when Mrs. Havisham tells Pip to "Call Estella" back to play cards with him, Pip describes her return down the dark hallway thus: "But, she answered at last, and her light came along the dark passage like a star" (chapter 8, emphasis added).  And a few pages later, Pip sees Estella "pass among the extinguished fires, and ascend some light iron stairs, and go out by a gallery high overhead, as if she were going out into the sky" (chapter 8, emphasis added). Such repetition of an idea by an author of things they want us to notice is called "emphasis"--the author emphasizes what we are not to miss by repeating it.

So why connect Estella to a star?  Well, stars are beautiful, and disregarding the fact that we know they are extremely hot, they appear to be cold twinkling up there in the night sky; they certainly provide no warmth to us located as far away as they are.  And that is another part of the symbolism: stars are distant!  So these are Estella's attributes: she is beautiful, cold, and distant.  She can be admired but not reached, not touched.  Other symbolism connected to Estella relates to Mrs. Havisham's jewels, which are also cold and hard, beautiful and unfeeling.  But the more solid case is to be made for the star connection.

What matters about this entire answer is that I encourage you to learn to see the details, see what is repeated, notice the "be grateful" idea and not merely chuckle at the "by hand" joke, but see the fact of Pip's ingratitude. Notice the repetition of ideas connected to stars with Estella and try to put them together.  Someone once said that the best things in books are not shouted out by the author, but whispered between the lines.  How many readers, do you think, read the account by Biddy of Mrs. Joe's death and last words and never put the sentence "Joe, forgive Pip" together or realize the import of those words in relation to the main theme of the novel?  

P.S.  I cannot conclude without pointing out that Dickens was pressured by friends not to end the novel with Pip and Estella parting.  He had originally composed an ending where they meet very briefly, and Pip tells us she is married to someone else, but his friends asked him not to use this ending and so he did not.  So although it is true that Estella says, after Pip states they are friends, "And will continue friends apart" (on the last page of the novel), Dickens does not expect us to believe that; thus the last words of the novel are "I saw no shadow of another parting from her."  The implication is that Dickens has crafted a happy ending, under pressure from his friends, and that Pip will in fact marry Estella.  Just before describing seeing her again, Pip mentions the death of her husband and remarks, "for anything I knew, she was married again."  So the fact is, she's not married again, and Pip has no intentions of letting her go again.  

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