How do the minor characters, Molly, Mr. Wopsle and Startop, move the plot and develop the themes in Great Expectations?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Wopsle, Molly, and Startop are very minor characters in Great Expectations, who contribute to the plot in small ways.While providing comic relief, Mr. Wopsle demonstrates false ambitions, Molly is part of the Society as a Prison theme, and Startop demonstrates true friendship.

  • Mr. Wopsle - An object of satire of those with false ambitions

When Pip is a boy, Mr. Wopsle, whose great-aunt has a store and keeps an evening school. However, the attempts at education are rather poor as it is little Biddy, an orphan like him, who teaches Pip his letters. Mr. Wopsle occupies a room upstairs where he reads aloud and practices speeches from Shakespearean plays. After Pip goes to London, he attends a performance one evening in which Mr. Wopsle, now calling himself Mr. Haldengarver, plays Hamlet. In a passage that satirizes those of false ambition and pretensions, Mr. Haldegarver presents a caricature of Hamlet that is met with laughter and jest.

Whenever that undecided Prince had to ask a question or state a doubt, the public helped him out with it. As for example; on the question whether 'twas nobler in the mind to suffer, some roared yes, and some no, and some inclining to both opinions said "toss up for it;" and quite a Debating Society arose. 

In a rather ludicrous manner, Mr. Wopsle acts as an exaggerated foil to Pip, pointing to the folly of Pip's own ambitions. 

  • Molly - Victim of poverty and part of Society as a Prison theme

Molly is a servant at Mr. Jaggers's house whose strong hands and wrists of which Pip take notice. Later, after knowing Estella, Pip figures out that she is the daughter of Molly. Then, when Pip confronts Mr. Jagger with questions on Molly, this episode breaks down the rigid category of behavior to which Mr. Jaggers has so strongly adhered. For, he answers Pip's inquiry about Molly and Estella with a hypothetical case that demonstrates Jagger's act of kindness and heartfelt feeling, an act incongruous with his customary behavior. He "puts" to Pip the case of a mother who was going to prison and would lose her child, and he knew a wealthy woman who wished to adopt a girl:

"Put the case that pretty nigh all the children he saw in his daily business life he had reason to look upon as so much spawn, to develop into the fish that were to come to his net,—to be prosecuted, defended, forsworn, made orphans, bedevilled somehow."

Jaggers has done the best he can for both mother and daughter: He has found Estella a home and Molly has stayed on with Jaggers as a servant because she feared that on the streets of London she would again commit a crime. Pip, then, agrees to say nothing more about Molly.

This situation demonstrates the humanity of Jaggers that he has hidden; the story of Molly also underscores Dickens's view of Victorian society as a prison itself in which people are locked in their situations and made prisoners of terrible social situations.

  • Startop - A true friend

When Pip receives a letter directing him to the old sluice house if he wants to learn information about his Uncle Provis, he rushes to catch the stage. Fortunately, Herbert discovers the letter that Pip has dropped; so he and Startop and Trabb's boy enter the sluice house just as the nefarious Orlick prepares his execution of Pip. They save Pip's life because Orlick's intentions were murderous as it is Orlick who has told Pip, "It was you as always give Old Orlick a bad name to her."  (Miss Havisham)

Earlier, Startop has helped Pip with navigating the boat since Pip hands and arms are still wrapped. Naturally, Pip is very grateful for his friend.

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Great Expectations

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