Great Expectations Characters
by Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations Characters

The main characters in Great Expectations are Pip, Miss Havisham, Estella, and Abel Magwitch.

  • Philip "Pip" Pirrip is an orphan with aspirations of one day being a gentleman. He falls in love with Estella.
  • Miss Havisham is a bitter old woman who was jilted at the altar on her wedding day. She teaches Estella to break men's hearts.
  • Estella: a beautiful young orphan, raised by Miss Havisham to be cold and aloof.
  • Abel Magwitch is a former convict whom Pip meets while visiting his parents' graves. Abel secretly becomes Pip's benefactor as thanks for Pip's assistance in aiding Magwitch's escape.

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Philip Pirrip (who shortens his own name to “Pip” as a child) is the narrator and protagonist of the story, an orphan who grows up in humble circumstances with his sister and brother-in-law, only to find himself suddenly endowed with a large sum of money, the “great expectations” of the title. Great Expectations is a bildungsroman—the story of an individual's growth and development within a strict social order, and Pip is the focus of this growth in the novel. Pip is really two characters at once: the protagonist going through the trials of one life, and the grown narrator relating the story of his life. At times, adult Pip offers lighthearted observations on his childish behavior while illustrating the stresses that lead child Pip to react to his world.

One of Pip’s strongest characteristics (and, indeed, one of the central themes of the novel) is his desire for self-improvement. He analyzes the world around him for the best and worst examples of society and emulates the best. Unfortunately, the best examples of society aren’t always the best examples of humanity; Pip the narrator criticizes Pip the protagonist for his narrow-minded treatment of those around him. The young Pip’s desire for self-improvement infringes on the dignity of other characters like Joe and Biddy, although they are kind to him.

Pip is capable of kindness to those he loves, but the influence of Miss Havisham and especially Estella brings out the worst in him as his craving for advancement grows stronger. In effect, the women become the role models for the unhappy “middle” section of the story, and the deeper Pip explores his own social standing, the more miserable he becomes. He seems to rally when he inherits a mysterious fortune, but when he discovers the money came from the convict Magwitch and not Miss Havisham, his narrow view of the world and its rules crumbles. Magwitch is hardly the refined gentleman Pip has come to expect as a benefactor, but it is he who appreciated Pip’s kindness early on and rewards it in the end.

Ultimately, Pip is a sympathetic character and a fairly reliable narrator, with whom the reader usually identifies. His sensitivity and romantic nature often lead him astray, and in allowing Miss Havisham and Estella to shape his attitudes to those around him, Pip's earnest desire for self-improvement sometimes takes the form of snobbery. However, Pip gains self-knowledge and a sense of proportion over the course of the novel, maturing into the realization that status is meaningless without humanity. His behavior as a “gentleman” has caused pain to those he loved the most, and the now-mature Pip uses the novel to pay tribute to their undeserved respect of him.


Estella is cold, cruel, beautiful, and deeply untrustworthy. The daughter of Magwitch the convict, she is taken in by Miss Havisham from the age of three and taught to hate and mistreat men of all kinds, Pip among them. The reader sees her through the eyes of Pip, who falls in love with her and never quite separates her attractiveness from her social superiority and poise. Estella varies in her attitude to Pip, sometimes seeming friendly in a guarded way, but always able to distance herself again at a moment’s notice. The more Pip loves her, the more Estella seems to enjoy torturing and manipulating him. She is from even lower stock in the...

(The entire section is 1,929 words.)