Great Expectations is a novel about a poor boy named Pip, who lives with his cruel sister and her blacksmith husband. After years of helping a wealthy reclusive woman named Miss Havisham, he receives a small fortune from an anonymous benefactor. After learning to live like a gentleman and many attempts to court Miss Havisham's daughter, Estella, Pip learns that his fortune was not from Miss Havisham, as he had assumed, but a convict he had helped save when he was a child.
The narrator and protagonist of Great Expectations, Pip begins the novel as a poor young orphan boy, living in the marshes of Southeast England under the care of his elder sister, Mrs. Joe, and her husband, Joe Gargery. Pip is idealistic to a fault, and entertains romantic fantasies of becoming a wealthy gentleman and of capturing Estella's cold heart. From childhood, he has high expectations of himself and of his future, which ultimately lead him to disappointment and a greater sense of realism. Pip is extraordinarily compassionate, as is evidenced by his treatment of Magwitch, the convict and his secret benefactor. Continuously, Pip pursues self-improvement, trying earnestly to attain a high standing both morally and socially. His conscience is plagued by guilt, anxiety, and shame when he steps outside of his strict moral bounds.
The beautiful, cold-hearted Estella is Pip's sole passion, from his youth well into his adulthood. Miss Havisham, her adoptive mother, raises Estella to use her exquisite beauty to break her suitors' hearts. Pip falls victim to her cruel, passionless allure. She treats him with utter disdain, which is the catalyst for his pursuit of social status, wealth, and education. Estella is Pip's greatest expectation of all, and the reason for all of his others. She is the biological daughter of Magwitch and Molly.
Miss Havisham is the wealthy, eccentric old woman who invites Pip to play with Estella, her adoptive daughter, at her ramshackle manor named Satis House. After her fiance, Compeyson, betrayed her and abandoned her on her wedding day, she has sought revenge on the hearts of men. She raises Estella as a cold-hearted, unfeeling womana weapon in her revenge--so that she will never know her pain, and will deliver heartache and suffering unto the men who court her. Miss Havisham's behavior is strange and erratic, and somewhat frightening to Pip. She often dons her faded, unused bridal gown, and keeps her rotting wedding cake, proof that her heartache still haunts her every moment.
The humble, kindly blacksmith, Joe is Pip's brother-in-law and father figure, and ultimately the most sympathetic character in the novel. In his youth, Pip is ashamed of his unrefined manners and poor education, yet later realizes Joe's remarkable goodness and respectability. Joe may not be a gentleman with wealth and status, but he is essentially kind, and suffers the abuses of those who love him (Pip, his wife, Mrs. Joe) with patience and virtue.
The escaped convict who frightens young Pip in the cemetery, then threatens the boy to bring him food and a file the following day in the marshes. Later, he is revealed as Pip's long-time secret benefactor (through the lawyer Jaggers), having earned a fortune working on a ranch in Australia. Initially, he strikes Pip as uncouth and disgusting, though Pip later sees his goodness and warms to him. Pip helps him escape from the marshes, and, later, from the police in London.
The straightforward and strictly professional lawyer who Magwitch hires to act as Pip's guardian, Jaggers oversees Pip's fortune and rise to the status of a gentleman. He also helped Miss Havisham adopt Estella, who was orphaned by his respective clients, Magwitch and Molly, now his housekeeper. A powerful, brooding man, Jaggers appears to care for little else but his work, and his dedication makes him one of the most respected lawyers in all of London. He is a forceful presence in the courtroom, and even the hard criminals he defends fear and respect him. Despite his hard exterior, Jaggers cares for and counsels Pip. He is anal and obsessive, characteristics evidenced by his obsessive hand-washing. He scrubs his hands clean after work each day to remove the keep the filth of his work from corrupting his spirit.
Jagger's clerk, Wemmick maintains a professional and cool demeanor in the office, but is friendly and jovial with Pip outside of work. He repeatedly articulates his belief in distinct work and personal personalities. He lives at Walworth with his Aged Parent, and marries his beloved Miss Skiffins.
First introduced as Pip's foe, the pale young gentleman in the garden at Satis House, Herbert later becomes Pip's closest friend when they meet again in London. He nicknames Pip Handel, and remains his trustworthy and loving confidant. Herbert is the son of Matthew Pocket, Miss Havisham's cousin and Pip's tutor. He aspires to work as a merchant so that he can afford to marry his fianc, Clara Barley. Herbert, with his humility and kindness, is one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel.
Pip's tutor in London, he is Miss Havisham's cousin and Herbert's father.
The kind, respectable fianc of Herbert Pocket, who must serve her ill-tempered, dying father.
The fianc and, later, the wife of Wemmick, who cooks dinner for him and The Aged each Sunday.
A wise, kind young woman, Biddy is Pip's friend and tutor. She moves into Pip's home to care for Mrs. Joe after she becomes an invalid, and teaches him how to read and write. Biddy's character is continually in sharp contrast to Estella Biddy is simple, plain, moral, and essentially good. Because she is common, Pip denies his spark of romantic interest in her, but returns to marry her at the end of the novel, only to find that she has been married to Joe.
A bumbling, oafish, and malevolent man, Orlick is introduced as Joe's laborer in the forge. He is continuously cruel to Pip, and, later in the novel, lures him to his limekiln in the marshes and attempts to murder him. There, he reveals that he is Mrs. Joe's murderer.
Pip's elder sister and guardian, she presides over her household with ruthless and ultimate power. She rules her home with an iron fist, punishing Pip and Joe, her husband, with a cane she calls the Tickler if they step out of her bounds. Mrs. Joe is fueled by social ambition, and works with Pumblechook to foster Pip's relationship with Miss Havisham. After she is attacked (by Orlick, as is later revealed), Mrs. Joe becomes an invalid, and is thus rendered helpless, her mean spirit disappeared.
An educated, articulate career criminal, Compeyson is the former partner of Magwitch, and the former fianc of Miss Havisham. He is responsible for Miss Havisham's heartbreak and her vendetta against men, having left her on her wedding day. At the end of the novel, he betrays Magwitch to the police. Compeyson, who uses his refined manners and gentlemanly status to attain a light prison sentence, is in distinct contrast to Magwitch, the coarse, uneducated criminal.
Pip's long-time foe and fellow student under Matthew Pocket, Drummle is irritating and stupid. A minor member of the upper class, Drummle conducts himself with an air of superiority, and treats Pip with disdain. Pip is crushed when he learns that Drummle and Estella will marry, though the marriage ultimately makes Estella miserable. Eleven years later, after Drummle's death, Pip and Estella reunite.
Pip's controlling, arrogant uncle, Pumblechook is one of the novel's primary antagonists. Technically, he is Joe's uncle, though he is continuously referred to as Uncle by Pip and Mrs. Joe. A seed merchant, he is obsessed with finances and social status, and arranges Pip' first visit to Miss Havisham's. Pip detests Pumblechook, and his dislike of him intensifies when the man takes undue credit for Pip's rise in status, which he has had no hand in, as Magwitch, not Miss Havisham, is Pip's benefactor.
The town church clerk, Wopsle is the nephew of Pip's teacher. Shortly after Pip's relocation to London, Wopsle moves to the city and begins a new, somewhat pitiful career as an actor.
Pip's fellow student under Matthew Pocket, he is gentle and effeminate. At the end of the novel, he kindly helps Pip and Herbert with Magwitch's escape on the river.
Jaggers' quiet, brooding housekeeper, she is dark, strong, and mysterious. Eventually, she is revealed as Estella's biological mother, and Magwitch's former wife. She was tried for murder, but acquitted, thanks to Jaggers' stellar defense.