The protagonist and narrator of Great Expectations, Pip begins the story as a young orphan boy being raised by his sister and brother-in-law in the marsh country of Kent, in the southeast of England. Pip is passionate, romantic, and somewhat unrealistic at heart, and he tends to expect more for himself than is reasonable. Pip also has a powerful conscience, and he deeply wants to improve himself, both morally and socially.
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Miss Havisham’s beautiful young ward, Estella is Pip’s unattainable dream throughout the novel. He loves her passionately, but, though she sometimes seems to consider him a friend, she is usually cold, cruel, and uninterested in him. As they grow up together, she repeatedly warns him that she has no heart.
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Miss Havisham is the wealthy, eccentric old woman who lives in a manor called Satis House near Pip’s village. She is manic and often seems insane, flitting around her house in a faded wedding dress, keeping a decaying feast on her table, and surrounding herself with clocks stopped at twenty minutes to nine. As a young woman, Miss Havisham was jilted by her fiancé minutes before her wedding, and now she has a vendetta against all men. She deliberately raises Estella to be the tool of her revenge, training her beautiful ward to break men’s hearts.
A fearsome criminal, Magwitch escapes from prison at the beginning of Great Expectations and terrorizes Pip in the cemetery. Pip’s kindness, however, makes a deep impression on him, and he subsequently devotes himself to making a fortune and using it to elevate Pip into a higher social class. Behind the scenes, he becomes Pip’s secret benefactor, funding Pip’s education and opulent lifestyle in London through the lawyer Jaggers.
Pip’s brother-in-law, the village blacksmith, Joe stays with his overbearing, abusive wife—known as Mrs. Joe—solely out of love for Pip. Joe’s quiet goodness makes him one of the few completely sympathetic characters in Great Expectations. Although he is uneducated and unrefined, he consistently acts for the benefit of those he loves and suffers in silence when Pip treats him coldly.
The powerful, foreboding lawyer hired by Magwitch to supervise Pip’s elevation to the upper class. As one of the most important criminal lawyers in London, Jaggers is privy to some dirty business; he consorts with vicious criminals, and even they are terrified of him. But there is more to Jaggers than his impenetrable exterior. He often seems to care for Pip, and before the novel begins he helps Miss Havisham to adopt the orphaned Estella. Jaggers smells strongly of soap: he washes his hands obsessively as a psychological mech-anism to keep the criminal taint from corrupting him.
Pip first meets Herbert Pocket in the garden of Satis House, when, as a pale young gentleman, Herbert challenges him to a fight. Years later, they meet again in London, and Herbert becomes Pip’s best friend and key companion after Pip’s elevation to the status of gentleman. Herbert nicknames Pip “Handel.” He is the son of Matthew Pocket, Miss Havisham’s cousin, and hopes to become a merchant so that he can afford to marry Clara Barley.
Jaggers’s clerk and Pip’s friend, Wemmick is one of the strangest characters in Great Expectations. At work, he is hard, cynical, sarcastic, and obsessed with “portable property”; at home in Walworth, he is jovial, wry, and a tender caretaker of his “Aged Parent.”
A simple, kindhearted country girl, Biddy first befriends Pip when they attend school together. After Mrs. Joe is attacked and becomes an invalid, Biddy moves into Pip’s home to care for her. Throughout most of the novel, Biddy represents the opposite of Estella; she is plain, kind, moral, and of Pip’s own social class.
The day laborer in Joe’s forge, Orlick is a slouching, oafish embodiment of evil. He is malicious and shrewd, hurting people simply because he enjoys it. He is responsible for the attack on Mrs. Joe, and he later almost succeeds in his attempt to murder Pip.
Pip’s sister and Joe’s wife, known only as “Mrs. Joe” throughout the novel. Mrs. Joe is a stern and overbearing figure to both Pip and Joe. She keeps a spotless household and frequently menaces her husband and her brother with her cane, which she calls “Tickler.” She also forces them to drink a foul-tasting concoction called tar-water. Mrs. Joe is petty and ambitious; her fondest wish is to be something more than what she is, the wife of the village blacksmith.
Pip’s pompous, arrogant uncle. (He is actually Joe’s uncle and, therefore, Pip’s “uncle-in-law,” but Pip and his sister both call him “Uncle Pumblechook.”) A merchant obsessed with money, Pumblechook is responsible for arranging Pip’s first meeting with Miss Havisham. Throughout the rest of the novel, he will shamelessly take credit for Pip’s rise in social status, even though he has nothing to do with it, since Magwitch, not Miss Havisham, is Pip’s secret benefactor.
A criminal and the former partner of Magwitch, Compeyson is an educated, gentlemanly outlaw who contrasts sharply with the coarse and uneducated Magwitch. Compeyson is responsible for Magwitch’s capture at the end of the novel. He is also the man who jilted Miss Havisham on her wedding day.
An oafish, unpleasant young man who attends tutoring sessions with Pip at the Pockets’ house, Drummle is a minor member of the nobility, and the sense of superiority this gives him makes him feel justified in acting cruelly and harshly toward everyone around him. Drummle eventually marries Estella, to Pip’s chagrin; she is miserable in their marriage and reunites with Pip after Drummle dies some eleven years later.
Jaggers’s housekeeper. In Chapter 48, Pip realizes that she is Estella’s mother.
The church clerk in Pip’s country town; Mr. Wopsle’s aunt is the local schoolteacher. Sometime after Pip becomes a gentleman, Mr. Wopsle moves to London and becomes an actor.
A friend of Pip’s and Herbert’s. Startop is a delicate young man who, with Pip and Drummle, takes tutelage with Matthew Pocket. Later, Startop helps Pip and Herbert with Magwitch’s escape.
Wemmick’s beloved, and eventual wife.