Explore characters regarding the use of exaggeration, humour, understatement, sarcasm & irony in Great Expectations.  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Charles Dickens has probably created more memorable characters than any other author in literary history.  Who can forget Scrooge, Madame DeFarge, Fagin, Tulkinghorn, Gradgrind, Bounderby, and David Copperfield, among others?  Of course, Great Expectations contains many memorable characters and caricatures.


Miss Havisham -As the eccentric aristocrat who seeks revenge upon the entire male sex by training her protege Estella to be cruel and heartless, Miss Havisham knows "nothing of the days of the week nor the months of the year" and exists in a decaying world with decaying memories.

Mr. Jaggers - A character modeled after a particularly unscrupulous lawyer with whom Dickens was acquainted, Mr. Jaggers operates just on the line of the law.  His opinion of boys is that they are "a bad lot," and he defends people mostly for the money.  He is overbearing and supercilious, even somewhat sadistic as he enjoys the interplay of Drummle with the other young men, Startop and Pip.  Washing his hands frequently like Pontius Pilate, Mr. Jaggers speaks curtly, revealing nothing:  "Take nothing on appearances; take everything on evidence." 

Magwitch - The man in coarse grey on the marshes, Magwitch is the convict who has grown up in the streets of London, living in a social prison of a sort.  Trapped by his poverty, Magwitch is taken in by the deceptive Arthur Havisham and the devious Compeyson, who exploits Abel Magwitch.  When he and Compeyson are put on trial, Magwitch is given a heavier sentence because he is ragged and Compeyson is dressed as a gentleman, demonstrating the unfair practices of the criminal justice system against which Dickens railed.

Estella -  With a name meaning "star," Estella is a manufactured character, a girl from the lower classes who is raised as a lady to be cruel and wreak Miss Havisham's revenge upon the male gender.  She is heartless and incapable of feeling even for Pip and Miss Havisham.  Her identity as the daughter of Magwitch and Molly, another ex-convict is later discovered by Pip. 

Pip - As the main character of the novel, Pip grows from a boy, who becomes embarrassed that he is "coarse," to a young man with pretensions, and, finally, to a man who realizes that the values he pursues are false.  So, Pip returns to the forge from London where he has been a gentleman.  There at the forge, Pip finds the meaningful love of Joe Gargery, a love he has not appreciated until now.  


Uncle Pumblechook - A ridiculous corn chandler who covets what Dickens considered a frivolous aristocracy and wishes to attain their status, Pumblechook puts on airs at the house of Joe and wherever he goes.  He barely feeds Pip who stays with him prior to going to Miss Havisham's, but boasts at the Boar's Inn of being Pip's menton after Pip becomes a gentleman.

Mr. Wopsle - Another exaggerated character, Mr. Wopsle's mother hold a farcical school where Biddy teaches Pip.  He goes to London to act, but is a ludicrous figure in the drams in which he acts.

Mrs. Sarah Pocket - "A dry, brown corrugated old woman with a face that may have been made out of walnut shells," she envies the aristocracy and spends her days reading about titles and coats of arms while her children tumble about her in mayhem.  Mrs. Pocket is a toady who has been with Miss Havisham for years, just waiting for her to die in order to receive an inheritance meant for her husband, Matthew Pocket.

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Great Expectations

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