In Great Expectations, what are Pip's three most important character traits?
Pip possesses many characteristics, but his most salient are his hyper-imaginativeness and sense of existence, his superficiality, and his guilt.
1. Hyper-imaginativeness and sense of existence
From the opening chapter until the end, Pip's recounting of the tale of his "great expectations" is a fantasy. His fear of the "man in coarse gray" aggrandizes into his imagining that
the damp cold seemed riveted as the iron was riveted to the leg of the man.
This image of the leg iron follows Pip as he feels himself chained to his life as apprentice to Joe, then tied again to Magwitch, to whom he "felt that that was my place henceforth while he lived."
Pip's idea that his life can be transformed by having money and going to London to learn to be a gentleman demonstrates his imaginativeness and sense that his existence depends upon money and the approval of those of the aristocracy. In fact, throughout the narrative of Great Expectations, Pip seeks meaning in his life from the approval of others such as Miss Havisham, Estella, Herbert, and Mr. Jaggers.
After he travels to London, Pip assumes airs in his effort to be a gentleman. He hires a servant, the Avenger, a man who actually causes him torment; he feels himself superior to Joe now that he is a gentleman-- "I felt impatient of him and out of temper with him"-- and he is repulsed when Magwitch risks his life to visit him. In Chapter XIX, Pip also scolds Biddy for her failure to teach Joe better manners and skills because when he brings Joe to London
“Hear me out—but if I were to remove Joe into a higher sphere, as I shall hope to remove him when I fully come into my property, they would hardly do him justice.”
“Whether you scold me or approve of me,” returned poor Biddy, “you may equally depend upon my trying to do all that lies in my power, here, at all times."
Pip is connected in chains of guilt to Magwitch, Miss Havisham, and Estella as the corruptors and the corrupted. As a child, he feels guilt for having stolen from Mrs.Joe for the convict, and later for her death; he feels the guilt of a prodigal son when he returns to the marshes, contrite, after having neglected to visit or contact Joe earlier; he is ashamed at having repulsed Magwitch when he visits in London and tries to get him out of London. As the man dies from the accident that ensues, Pip tends to him as a son in repentance:
...I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously toward me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.
Pip meets Estella and their share in guilt for having each tormented the other--she for not having loved him, he for having loved her so much that she has sought the brute Drummle.
It is important to remember that Pip is what is known as a dynamic character, in that he changes as the novel progresses, and ultimately becomes a much humbler individual by the end. However, if Pip's character at the beginning of the novel can be examined, it is clear that he is somebody who is vulnerable, kind and impressionable. Note how these traits are established very early on in the novel when Pip meets Magwitch for the first time:
I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I clung to him with both hands, and said, "If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn't be sick, and perhaps I could attend more."
Pip's response here to Magwitch shows just what a pitiful figure he appears to be at the beginning of the novel. He is a character that others use and abuse, and this is something that continues for the rest of the novel, even as he enters his adult years. At the same time, he is very courteous and kind, and this reveals a natural kindness that likewise remains with him, even when it is covered up with a veneer of arrogance and sophistication. Lastly, it is clear that Pip is impressionable, as he lets his fear of Magwitch easily presurise him into committing crime and doing what he is told.