How do the minor characters, Miss Skiffins, Arthur and Matthew Pocket, contribute to the development of the plot and themes in Great Expectations?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The characters Miss Skiffins, Arthur Havisham, and Matthew Pocket of Great Expectations contribute to the development of major characters. Further, they contribute to the theme of Dreams and Plans as well as to the motif of the Collapse of Rigid Categories in Great Expectations. Miss Skiffins and Mr. Pocket also contribute to the comic relief in the novel.

  • Miss Skiffins

Miss Skiffins is a very proper young woman who always wears gloves. Furthermore, she unwinds John Wemmick's arm if he puts it around her as they are seated. After their marriage and the achievement of their dreams and plans, Miss Skiffins does allow her husband to put his arm around her, demonstrating the collapsing of rigid categories. Her contribution to the plot is her ability to make Wemmick a more sentimental character as he parts from his business-like manner with her.  Further demonstration of this collapse comes in Chapter LI (51) when Wemmick admits to his warmer side at the office. This shocks Mr. Jaggers:

“What's all this?” said Mr. Jaggers. “You with an old father, and you with pleasant and playful ways?”
“Well!” returned Wemmick. “If I don't bring 'em here, what does it matter?”

  • Arthur Havisham
Arthur also breaks the rigid category of class distinctions since he is the illegitimate son of Mr. Havisham and the family cook. As such, and as the half-brother of Miss Havisham, Arthur is jealous of her because she is the father's favorite. In his malevolence, he plots with Compeyson to rob his sister because he has wasted the money his father has left him. Therefore, he becomes an integral player in the destruction of Miss Havisham. But, his dreams and plans do not work out as he later falls ill and comes to live with his accomplice Compeyson. After some time, he becomes delusional, imagining on his death bed an apparition all in white appearing before him. This is a ghostly figure not unlike Miss Havisham in her wedding dress. 
  • Matthew Pocket
The father of Herbert, Pip's roommate, Matthew Pocket is a cousin to Miss Havisham who warned her against marrying Compeyson, contending that he was no real gentleman. At the time Miss Havisham ordered him out of her house; however, after what has happened to her, Miss Havisham realized that he is the only honest one of her relatives; therefore, she misses him and informs Pip that after she dies, Matthew will sit at the head of the table. In addition, Mr. Pocket is the tutor of Pip as he earns a living teaching and writing books on the topic of raising children. This is ironic and breaks the category of professional adviser because Mr. Pocket is really incapable of managing his own family as Mrs. Pocket is a negligent mother, whose baby crawls over her feet and under things, putting dangerous objects in his mouth while the other children run wild as she obliviously reads from a book about family crests and titles.
Furthermore, Mr. Pocket sets a rather unorthodox example as a gentleman and a tutor as he pulls at his hair when he is unable to control the rambunctious children. Another pointed collapse of rigid categories occurs within the dynamics of the household. Pip observes that is is really the servants who keep the baby safe and control the other children:
Both Mr. and Mrs. Pocket had such a noticeable air of being in somebody else's hands, that I wondered who really was in possession of the house and let them live there, until I found this unknown power to be the servants.
When frustrated, Mr. Pocket appears to try to lift himself by his own hair. Still Pip respects him and asks Miss Havisham to leave him some money in her will. All these actions contribute to the comic relief of the seriousness in the narrative.
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Great Expectations

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