Classified as a bildungsroman, or novel of maturation, Great Expectations chronicles the development of a young and naive Pip into a mature, responsible man. For one thing, Pip learns that social class is no accurate measure of a person's mettle or spiritual worth, so he does, indeed, develop as a man and he matures in his heart. This maturation is brought about through Pip's various experiences with the other main characters within the social structure of the narrative.
Although he is melancholic about the loss of his parents and the cruelty of Mrs. Joe, his sister, who is physically abusive at times, the young Pip is content enough because he is loved and befriended by his sister's husband, Joe Gargery, a man with a true and sensitive heart, who loves Pip. But, when he goes to play with a girl at Satis House, where an eccentric aristocrat lives in the past, Pip learns that he is inferior to this beautiful girl because she calls him "coarse" and "common." Suddenly, Pip's perspectives change, and he believes that if he were to become a gentleman, Estella would fall in love with him as he is with her. In addition, Pip feels that higher social status will bring him happiness and success and make him a better person.
But Pip becomes a snob rather than a better person, rejecting Joe when he comes to London because he is coarse and embarrasses Pip before his friend Herbert Pocket. Also, since he feels it beneath him to visit the forge, Pip rationalizes why he does not visit Joe. When Magwitch visits, he is appalled because a convict is his benefactor, and not Miss Havisham. His love for Estella is unrequited, but he pursues her anyway. However, with her upbringing, Estella is cruel and cold to Pip and even to Miss Havisham, her adoptive mother.
After he tries to save Miss Havisham from the fire that has caught her decaying dress, Pip begins to realize the true value of friendship and real love. Later, when Pip and Herbert try to help Magwitch escape, the old convict becomes ill, but Pip takes his place by Magwitch's side: "I felt that was my place...." and consoles him with the report that his daughter is alive and well. Like the Prodigal son, Pip returns home to the forge and begs forgiveness, which Joe lovingly dismisses, "Ever the best of friends, Pip!"
From his experiences, Pip realizes that true friendship, which is what Joe offers him, is the most valuable asset a man can possess. Human kindness and love, those virtues that Joe demonstrates, are what truly matter.