The Influence of Female Characters on Pip’s Development in Great Expectations

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
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While it may be true to argue that the female characters of Great Expectations have the most detrimental effect on Pip, it would certainly not be accurate to portray them as having had the greatest influence on his development. Although, the tyrannical Mrs Joe, the embittered Miss Havisham and Pip's 'beloved' Estella have a large hand in shaping Pip's moral decline, it is without doubt Magwitch and of course, the moral cornerstone of the book, Joe who have the most profound effect on him.

As well as this there are the minor male characters of the book such as Wemmick (in his Walworth capacity) and to a lesser extent Jaggers, and their part in restoring Pip to decency. Having said this, it must be acknowledged that in his childhood years it is in fact Mrs Joe who has the most immense influence on Pip's development. Her highly unfavourable "bring him up by hand," regime destroys his self-worth, forcing him to develop a real sense of self-resentment. Hear that, be grateful to those who brought you up by hand," is a deeply ironic statement, for it is Mrs Joe he owes least gratitude to, considering the negative impact she has on Pip's young life. The physical and verbal abuse she expels on him leads to a lack of adequate love and affirmation. "I'm a common labouring boy, my hands are coarse and my boots are thick... generally I'm in a low lived bad way," is a bleak outlook that comes from a young boy who has had his self-worth quashed under his sister's tyranny.

It is of course this lack of self-esteem which is most harmful to Pip's development, forcing him to create the fantasy of reinvention that ultimately leads to his moral decline. However, we cannot forget that regardless of Mrs Joe's predominant influence, Joe, Pip's friend and father figure, is, to an extent, able to have a positive impact on Pip.

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Primarily, he is able to provide him with what little affirmation possible in such a cold household, establishing a solid friendship with his fellow sufferer, "We are ever the best of friends ain't us Pip? Furthermore, in terms of moral development, this "gentle Christian man" is able to instate in Pip the foundations of the values which he must ultimately return to in the peak of his moral decline. Joe the moral mentor, encourages Pip to develop the same goodness he himself possess, by teaching him number of vital lessons such as compassion through the quote "We don't know what it is you have done, but we wouldn't have you starve to death for it, poor fellow miserable creatur, - would us. ' and the importance of honesty through "(telling lies) ain't the way to get out of being common. Hence Joe is able to have some effect on Pip in his childhood years.

Once exposed to the world of Satis house it is the influence of Miss Havisham and Estella that largely occupies his life during the 'expectation' years. We see the manner in which Miss Havisham plays further on his lack of self-worth, using Estella to belittle him and "break his heart"; "He's a coarse and common labouring boy. " This lack of self-worth combines with the glamour of their lifestyle which mesmerizes Pip and leads him to create the fantasy of reinvention.

It is the initial meeting at Satis house, therefore, that consequently sees Pip commence his deluded journey in the pursuit of false ideals. Estella also becomes a major contributor to this fantasy, as Pip is naively led on by her and is blinded by her beauty, failing to realize what truly lies beneath. Thus it could be said that Miss Havisham and Estella have a large part in negatively influencing Pip and fuelling his desire to become a 'gentleman'. In contrast, we see that it is the male character Magwitch who initiates the moral redemption in Pip.

Although initially Pip holds him with abhorrent disgust, as time moves on he is forced to under go a major reality check in assessing his idle and wasteful lifestyle. Magwitch is able to extract from Pip the core values he exhibited in his childhood years, in particular the quality of compassion. Towards the end of their relationship we have the declaration from Pip "May I be as true to you as you have been to me. " indicating the profound effect this common convict has had in returning Pip from the pretentious prig to the morally decent character we are able to respect.

Wemmick and to a much lesser extent Jaggers are also able to provide examples of this compassion which help Pip towards his return to decency. During his reality check Pip is also provided with the unselfishness of Wemmick in his Walworth capacity. His caring of the age and the simple idealistic life he leads Pip to open his eyes to true gentility. In a much more ambiguous way we have Jaggers. The revelation of his secretive rescue of Estella from the criminal milieu provides Pip with a compassionate side of Jaggers not revealed before. These examples dramatically influence his development, encouraging his shift back to integrity.

However, it is once more Joe who is able to most profoundly influence Pip, completing his moral redemption and providing him with the model of selflessness and compassion. Pip suffers from a mystery illness which is highly symbolic of a phase of personal disassembly, in which he questions himself and rebuilds his character. It is Joe who appears as the saviour, nursing him back to health and in the process teaching Pip that true gentility comes only with qualities such as humility, honesty and most importantly the ability to love and be loved. God bless this gentle Christian man," is a defining moment in Pip's development as he is finally able to recognise Joe's nobility. Thus without doubt we are left to see that it is the male character Joe who has the most intense influence on Pip's character.

It is clear to see therefore that it is instead although the female characters do have quite a detrimental effect on Pip's development, it is instead the male characters and lead by Joe who have the greatest influence. In particular these male characters have quite a substantial hand in helping Pip re-establish his moral decency and hence redeem himself in the eyes of the reader.

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The Influence of Female Characters on Pip’s Development in Great Expectations. (2017, Dec 22). Retrieved from

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