Last Updated 20 Jun 2022

How Does Dickens Present the Development of Pip’s Character?

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The novel Great Expectations follows the story of a young boy, Pip, who realizes his identity as he strives to be above his social class, and shows the development and changes in his character. Pip's personality traits change through interaction with other people in the course of this story. Although Pip was brought up in a harsh and poor background, with a punishing sister, who had brought him up “by hand”, he was gentle and kind. However, after his encounter with Miss Havisham and Estella, his perception of the world is drastically altered, and along with this so does his character.

The reader first sees how sympathetic Pip is when he meets the escaped convict, Magwitch, in the graveyard. Dickens creates a sense of pathos through Pip’s description of Magwitch “he hugged his shuddering body in both his arms”, which shows that he is in a terrible state and about to literally fall apart. Here Magwitch is portrayed as vulnerable, injured and not very menacing. This novel is narrated by Pip; therefore it is Pip that is describing Magwitch in a pitiful state. Consequently, Pip does not see Magwitch as a threat; instead he feels sorry for him and is sympathetic.

Pip is very brave, as he faced the convict, Magwitch, who was several times his size and many more times as strong, despite being so young. He was even able to talk to him politely, “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn’t be sick, and perhaps I could attend more”. Also, instead of fleeing at once, Pip had wished Magwitch goodnight. This takes a certain amount of courage, and also shows that Pip is well-mannered. Furthermore, Pip is curious about Magwitch and cares about him, as he did not run away as soon as he was freed, “I stopped to look after him”.

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This shows that Pip was concerned about Magwitch’s wellbeing, as if he was truly scared of Magwitch and was just going to go home to carry out his errand, he would have run straight home. Staying and watching after Magwitch portrays that Pip has a good heart and has a gentle character. Dickens also demonstrates Pip’s capacity for compassion when he returns to Magwitch of his own free will with food, water and a file, when he could have reported him the police. Pip did not bring Magwitch food and water just because he was threatened to do so, but because he wanted to do this.

The reader can see this as Pip brings good food and brandy to Magwitch, “some bread, some rind of cheese, about half a jar of mincemeat... some brandy... a beautiful round compact pork pie”, and not just simple bread and water. This shows that Pip is generous and considerate, willing to risk being discovered by Mrs Joe that he had stolen a pork pie, just for the convict. Pip and Magwitch share an interesting relationship here, where Pip is the loving, nurturing superior, despite the fact that he is younger than Magwitch.

This event shows that Pip is tender, nurturing, and has a matured character. The turning point in Pip’s life comes after his first visit to Satis house, when he meets Miss Havisham and Estella. After this visit, he is greatly influenced by them and starts to treat himself and his family very differently. Estella, whom Pip falls in love with at once, has a profound effect on Pip, as he soon starts to despise himself and detest the way he acts and looks, “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair.

Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it. ” Estella, who is the ‘tool for revenge’ of Miss Havisham, is the character which causes Pip to start hating himself and wish he was more like Estella than the person he is now. Therefore, Pip has become more self-critical of himself, as he disapproves of his own appearance and behaviour. Pip’s desire for advancement largely overshadows his basic goodness. Not only is Pip changing his attitude towards himself, but also towards his family and friends.

He echoes Estella’s words precisely when he is evaluating Joe one day, “how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how thick his boots, and how coarse his hands. ” This further enforces how Pip aspires to be like Estella, as he is trying to speak like her and share the same views. Also, Joe is a father-figure to Pip, as he tries to protect Pip from his wife's angry outbursts, “Joe and I being fellow-sufferers, and having confidences as such, Joe imparted a confidence to me”. However, now Pip is looking down on Joe, who was a friend, a brother and a father to him.

As well as disapproving Joe, Pip even blames him to an extent for his behaviours, “I determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards, Jacks, which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too. ” This is quite rude and disrespectful, as Joe had always been kind to Pip. It is not Joe’s fault to have been born into a poor, lower class family and for Pip to blame Joe in such a way is very unfair. Therefore Pip is starting to become ungrateful and snobbish, even to his nearest and dearest. Pip is ashamed now f the life he leads and with whom he leads it with, as he mentions several times that he is “ashamed of home”. Initially, Pip had many wonderful images of home, “I had believed in the front door, as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice of roast fowls... I had believed in the forge as the glowing road to manhood and independence. ” However, he follows this by saying how embarrassed and unhappy he is of his home when he says, “Now, it was all coarse and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account. This shows that Miss Havisham and Estella have changed his perception of his quality of life, from believing that he lived in a wonderful world, to believing that he led a worthless life. Pip has changed from being content with living a simple life, to being constantly desiring to improve his status and impressing Estella. As a character, Pip has developed from being a humble, kind boy with an innate goodness about him, into a young man who falls madly in love with Estella, to such an extent where he would do anything to win her over and that it blinds him from everything else.

He disapproves of his family and hurts those around him, including himself. As a character, however, Pip’s hopes of a higher position in society often leads him to perceive the world rather narrowly, thinking that by thinking and acting like an upper class individual would automatically make him accepted in those ranks. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that Pip at heart is a very generous and sympathetic young man, with an inborn moral nature.

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