Great Expectations

by: Charles Dickens

Is Pip a success or a failure?

In terms of his initial hopes and expectations, Pip seems to end the novel as a failure. His two great hopes have been to rise to the status of a gentleman and win Estella’s heart, and he does not achieve either of these goals. His career ends up being modest, since “I must not leave it be supposed to that we were ever a great House, or that we made mints of money.” Pip’s lack of financial success is not only the blow to his social aspirations: he also has to face the shame and trauma of realizing that everything he has comes from a convicted criminal. While he has always nursed hopes of somehow winning Estella’s love, when he confesses his feelings to her, she responds by explaining that “You address nothing in my breast, you touch nothing there. I don’t care for what you say at all.”

On the other hand, Pip succeeds at developing a sense of empathy. He becomes able to appreciate and respect people based on their characters, rather than on shallow indications of class and status. As Magwitch lays dying, Pip comforts him by confiding that his lost child “lived and found powerful friends.” When he learns that Joe and Biddy have married, Pip bursts out in praise of both of them: “you, dear Joe, have the best wife in the whole world and she will make you happy even as you deserve to be.” Although he previously thought he was better than both characters, Pip now sees that their kindness and reliability matter more than their income or education. What Estella says about herself, that she has “been bent and broken, but, I hope, into better shape” applies equally to Pip. He ends the novel a failure according to the standards he initially holds, but a success because he has learned what better and truer standards of a good life actually are.