Great Expectations: A Character-Driven Novel

Category: Great Expectations
Last Updated: 07 Jul 2020
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The novel, Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens is heavily a character-driven novel due to the fact that the sequence of events in the novel are causes and effects of the actions of the characters as well as the interactions between them. The novel mainly depicts the growth and development of an orphan named Pip, who is greatly influenced by the other characters and became a gentleman and a bachelor in the end of the novel through his encounters with the other characters.

Pip, as the main character, definitely has a lasting impact on the drive of the novel since his decisions are very instrumental and effective towards the other characters as well as to himself. This phenomenon applies to not only Pip, but to the other characters, especially Estella, Miss Havisham, Joe, and Abel Magwitch. Everything a character does and every encounter between the characters in Great Expectation has an effect on the flow of the plot and situation of the novel. Before the very beginning of the novel, the conflict of the novel is already set in motion.

Pip is an orphan at the start of the novel as his parents were long gone and he lives with his sister, Mrs. Joe, and her husband, Joe, the blacksmith. As a result of the two siblings and the older sibling’s husband living together without any parents, the family was relatively poor. Thus, in addition to Mrs. Joe’s strict attitude and the fact that his status is in the lower class, Pip had a rough childhood. The fact that Pip had a childhood full of hardship and is poor sets up for his later decision to become a gentleman through a secret benefactor.

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When Pip do decides to leave for a new life in London, he upsets Biddy and especially Joe as he recently became an apprentice of his; their life-long friendship falls apart. This is one of the major decisions Pip has to make and it changed the entire course of the plot as the setting of the story shifts from Pip’s first known home in Kent to London since the novel follows where Pip goes and the direction of the story changes from Pip’s apprenticeship with Joe in blacksmithing to Pip’s new fortune of a career in a new place.

If Pip had not been an orphan or lived with a poor family, the major plot would not have existed as Pip’s transformation to a gentleman is the key. Pip would never have met half the characters of the novel such as his best friend, Herbert, Jaggers, and Wemmick. The novel would be driven into a different direction. Dickens was able to produce a novel that makes sense and that reflects his view of what a “coming of age” novel would be like by making the main character a poor orphan from the start only to turn him into a wealthy gentleman later and then into a hardworking bachelor.

Another beforehand affected character, who has a deep impact towards the novel’s state of conflict, is Miss Havisham as she is the mastermind behind Estella’s cold behavior and wants to get revenge on men just because one man, Compeyson, who is supposed to be her husband, left her on their wedding day before the start of the novel. This one particular major event of Miss Havisham’s life changed her life forever as she was heartbroken and turned into a crazy and vengeful woman.

She has ever since lived in the moment when she got the note that her wedding with Compeyson was off as all her clocks stayed at the same time of that moment and she still wears her bridal clothing from back then. The fact that she got rejected by her future husband induced her to hate men in general, to never love them again, and to adopt a child for herself, which happens to be Estella, the long-lost child of Abel Magwitch and Molly. All of this leads to the intimidating duo of Estella and Miss Havisham at Satis House, whom Pip fears and terrorizes him for much of the better first part of the novel.

Miss Havisham’s background story sets up for her influence on changing and manipulating the beautiful Estella’s life as well as Pip’s. Miss Havisham reveals that she has been giving orders to Estella to accomplish her goals for her as Estella is very attractive by acting dispassionate towards her suitors. During Pip’s meetings with Miss Havisham, Pip first thought of the idea of becoming a gentleman and leaving his poor life. When he is informed of a fortune that will due to be his, he thought his secret benefactor was Miss Havisham, so he became confident of her kindness and Estella’s hand in marriage.

Miss Havisham drives the plot by giving Pip the idea to leave his first known home away from Joe, Mrs. Joe, and Biddy. In addition, she was thoroughly thought to be the secret benefactor of Pip throughout the novel until Magwitch revealed it was him. Later, Miss Havisham changes her personality and became a totally different person as she regrets the pain she had given Pip and it was assumed she attempted suicide by catching herself on fire, leading Pip to rescue her. This event also influenced Pip to realize that his great expectations are not very significant towards him, but human feelings.

Thus, he thanks and prays for Miss Havisham’s well being and made up with Joe and Biddy for leaving them in the first place to be a gentleman. Also, Miss Havisham let Estella go free to do whatever she wants, so she married Drummle. However, she realizes that Drummle is not the man for her and after his death, she meets Pip and finally admits that she now sees that Pip has feelings of love for her. Dickens was once again clever to come up with such a disheartening background story for Miss Havisham that can explain her wild behavior and set up her personality change, which to a great extent affected the lives of Estella and Pip greatly.

Another major instance of the plot being greatly influenced include Estella’s background story along with her secret connection to Magwitch and Molly. Estella is also an “orphan,” but not as the same extent to Pip because she was adopted by Miss Havisham and both of her parents were still alive at the start of the novel. Estella’s life changed when there was trouble between her two parents in the past as her mother, Molly, was accused of killing a woman over her real husband, Abel Magwitch, or Estella’s father.

Molly was also accused of murdering her daughter, Estella, but she is clearly alive, so that clears up the accusation. Also, Jaggers defended Molly in court by saying she was too weak to strangle another person. Then, the family separated afterwards, which lead the three members of the family to different directions in their lives: Molly became Jagger’s housekeeper, Magwitch became an infamous convict, and Estella was adopted by Miss Havisham. All of these events wouldn’t have happened if Molly was a mentally unstable woman, who thought of murdering someone and had destroyed her own child unbeknownst to her husband.

The family’s past leads them to their new personalities in the novel and were important characters that lead the buildup of the climax of Great Expectations. In conclusion, the novel, Great Expectations, has an outstanding “Literary Quality” as the course of the novel is greatly affected by the effects of character movement and their involvements with each other. There were many pieces in the novel that has led to an impactful shift towards the novel’s plot and conflict story with each and every character in the novel having some contributions towards it.

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Great Expectations: A Character-Driven Novel. (2016, Aug 31). Retrieved from

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