Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Phillip Pirip is aptly nicknamed Pip, a word commonly used to denote the seed of an apple. From early childhood well into adulthood, Pip's budding maturity is the focus of the novel. In keeping with the Bildungsroman genre, Pip is at first an innocent young child whose place in this world has not been well defined. He is an orphan whose only sister finds him a nuisance and a burden; she resents him to the point of cruelty. Two random events happen which at first seem like mere episodes in the life of a child: Pip helps an escaped convict by giving him food and means of escape, and Pip is called to the home of Miss Havisham to entertain her and her daughter. The full consequence of these happenings on Pip's life is not fully known until the end of the novel, but they will determine the next three decades of his life
In true Bildungsroman fashion, the hero must become discontent with his life and his station in society. The visits to Miss Havisham are the catalyst for this discontent. Estella's disgust for everything "common" introduces young Pip to shame and embarrassment over his family and his appearance. He becomes obsessed with uncommon-ness and the desire to overcome his lowly position in order to impress Estella.
The inheritance he receives becomes the medium for his social transformation. With the money, he can realize his dream of becoming a gentleman. Wealth brings with it many vices and soon Pip starts leading a hollow and purposeless life of luxury. Under the influence of false pride and vanity that comes with gentlemanly pretensions, he rejects his background and snaps all connections with Joe and Biddy. He nurtures the belief that Miss Havisham is his patron and the reason for her generosity is that she wants Pip to marry Estella. Though he occasionally questions the appropriateness of his new behavior, he continues to pursue his expectations. When the truth is unleashed, Pip is rudely awakened from his fantasy world.
The reality that his patron is a convict undermines Pip's so-called "gentlemanliness." As well, he realizes at what cost he has pursued his dreams. He comes to accept the fact that his participation in the old dream of great expectations has hurt genuine people who care for him. He refuses all undeserved wealth and undergoes the ordeal of losing Estella to a brute. All these events make him wiser and more mature. At the end of the novel, he is an ordinary man who works to earn his keep. He is able to meet Estella one last time and part as friends, a final testament to the tremendous growth of his spirit.
Interestingly enough, Pip is the only character in the novel that Dickens never describes physically. Some outward characteristic, behavior, or gesture defines nearly all of Dickens' characters. Pip, however, is a character of transformation. He changes so much in the course of the novel that any attempt to define him by physical expression or appearance might lessen the impact of his journey. This internal growth is the final aspect of the Bildungsroman style Dickens achieves.
As the village blacksmith and Pip's brother-in-law, Joe's commonness is expressed in his name: simple, short, and undecorative. He is a thorough gentleman at heart and is always helpful. He stands out as a loving figure in Pip's life. Joe and Pip share a relationship based on love and trust, easily likened to the relationship between father and son, or brothers. They play games and participate in friendly competitions among themselves, in order to enliven the atmosphere of their home.
Joe is a simple man who looks forward to the day when Pip will become his apprentice. He has no aspirations other than to be what he is, and to teach his trade to Pip. This is beautifully dramatized in the scene, where Miss Havisham insists on paying Pip's premium as an apprentice. Joe had never wanted such a premium, since he was teaching Pip out of love. He cannot decline the money, but he is careful to make sure Pip and Miss Havisham both know he is teaching Pip out of love and concern, not for financial gain.
Joe swells with pride whenever he watches Pip reading or writing. Pip tries to teach Joe all that he learns, and Joe, despite thinking himself "awful dull," is proud of his learning.
Joe is loyal and humble. When Orlick argues with Mrs. Joe, Joe and Orlick get into a fight. And later, when Pip is in financial trouble, Joe pays his debts. And he is unselfish. He senses that Pip is embarrassed by his simplicity, so he leaves. Finally, he is forgiving. He marries Biddy and they name their son Pip, a gesture of love for the boy who once abandoned them in search of greater things. Joe Gargery, far from being a "mere blacksmith," is one of the heroes of the novel. Over the years, his forgiving nature and gigantic heart have made him a personal favorite of the readers.
Magwitch is an interesting character on many counts. For most of the novel, he is unnamed, referred to simply as "the convict" or "Pip's convict." Coincidentally, it is during these parts of the novel that he appears menacing and evil. He is a dangerous and desperate convict who keeps popping up in Pip's life. When he finally reveals himself to Pip, however, he expresses love and gratitude, admiration and affection. At the same time, he is given a name: Abel Magwitch. It is as if these human emotions have transformed him, making him worthy of human distinction.
Magwitch is a remarkable man so filled with gratitude over a small incident in the past that he devotes his life to repaying the small boy who helped him. His gesture is so magnanimous that it transforms Pip's initial disgust into ardent admiration. Pip marvels that Magwitch is a better friend to him than he (Pip) has been to Joe.
Magwitch is responsible for the changes in Pip, though not as directly as it might seem. True, his money has made Pip into a social "gentleman." But his kindness and loyalty transforms Pip into a responsible adult who regrets his own bad behavior. In short, because of Magwitch, Pip develops into a man who values integrity over wealth.