Among all the characters of Great Expectations, there is a clear divide between those of the upper-class and those who are more "common"; in fact, the aristocrats and those who aspire to be so are often the butt of Dickens's satire for their superciliousness and superficiality. Therefore, in an examination of the character who is the most altruistic, the reader must look to the lower-class personages.
The character who makes the greatest sacrifice is Joe Gargery in his love for Pip.
- He unselfishly releases Pip from his apprenticeship after Mr. Jaggers informs him that he is to have "great expectations." This act allows Pip to leave home for London where he can then become a gentleman.
- He dresses himself as he believes Pip would wish to see him when he visits Pip in London even though he is terribly uncomfortable.
- He lovingly writes Pip and tells him he will stay away from London because he is inappropriate to that setting:
....You and me is not two figures to be together in London; nor yet anywheres else but what is private, and beknown, and understood among friends... I want to be right, as you shall never see me no more in these clothes. I'm wrong in these clothes. I'm wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th' meshes. You won't find half so much fault in me if you think of me in my forge dress, with my hammer in my hand, or even my pipe.
- When Pip does not visit the forge even though he is in the area (staying at the Blue Boar) and visits Estella instead, Joe does not complain to him about Pip's neglect.
- As soon as he learns that Pip has been burned, he rushes to his aid and nurses Pip back to health. When Pip expresses his shame for neglecting Joe, the good man merely dismisses this emotion, laying his head on the pillow next to Pip, saying,
Which dear old Pip, old chap,” said Joe, “you and me was ever friends. And when you're well enough to go out for a ride—what larks!”
- Joe says nothing after Pip proposes to Biddy, even though Joe himself loves her.
- Just as the father celebrated the return of the prodigal son, Joe elatedly welcomes Pip when he finally returns to the forge. Later, after he and Biddy marry and have a son, they name him after Pip.
Throughout the narrative of Great Expectations, time and time again Joe thinks not of himself, but of the boy/friend he has always loved, even when it means sacrificing his own happiness in being with Pip.