How are characters influenced by their environments?
It is under the influence of Estella that Pip wants to be a gentleman. But what about other characters? Miss Havisham creates her own environment with Estella in it. What about Magwitch? Is it under the influence of a secret benefactor that Pip hopes for a better life?
A prevalent theme of Charles Dickens in is exactly that to which you allude; namely, environment. For, Dickens felt that society was a prison. In "Great Expectations" the character who best illustrates this concept is Magwitch as it is his environment, the streets of London, that make him a criminal. Magwitch as Provis tells Pip,
'When I was a ragged little creetur as much to be pitied as ever I see, I got the name of being hardened. 'This is a terrible hardened one," they says to prison visitors, picking out me. "May be said to live in jails, this boy." They always went on agen me about the Devil. But what the devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach, mustn't I?'
Magwitch goes on to relate how he met Compeyson and fell in with him, "swindling, forgin, stolen bank note passing, and suchlike." He is "a poor tool" in the hands of Compeyson until they are charged with felonies. Compeyson tells him that they should have separate defenses. Then, when the gentleman Compeyson appears in court, he is dressed well and speaks as an educated man while poor Magwitch in his worn clothes and street dialect stands opposite. Compeyson's counselor says,
My lord and gentlemen, here you have afore you, side by side...one well brought up, one ill brought up.
Compeyson receives half the sentence that Magwitch does when he was the instigator of all their crimes.
While poverty creates a prison for Magwitch, wealth and position creates another for Miss Havisham. Exploited in both love and her wealth, Miss Havisham is so disgraced within her socially-prominent environment that she imprisons herself as she loses her mind.
Like Miss Havisham raises Estella to get back at men, Magwitch helps Pip (through the secrecy of a benefactor) become the man he never could be. Magwich appears to be a cold-blooded killer in the beginning of the book when we know him as Convict #1. However, as we finally understand him and the life he was dealt, we see what a compassionate man he was, one who wanted nothing more than to give all he could back to a boy who had helped him in his time of need. Magwitch needed to see Pip excel, even though Pip didn’t get all he could have gotten out of his expectations.
Pip wanted so badly for the benefactor to be Havisham, so that he could get the girl, too. However, he never really became a gentleman; he never really became a scholar or became trained in anything. He never even got the girl (by those means). But that environment is the world he always wanted. He thought it would bring him happiness, yet all it brought him was loneliness.
Wemmick on the other hand had to have both worlds in his life for him to survive. The life of a clerk who works in an attorney's office has to be stern and humorless. Wemmick had to have his serious side in order to earn his keep. However, his eccentric personality demanded that he have a separate life outside of work. It was necessary for him to be playful and silly for not only his father's sake but for his own.