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Decoding Great Expectations: Character Analyses and Theme Explorations

Charles Dickens’ classic book Great Expectation was published in the middle of the 19th century. Published in serial form between 1861-1863, it reflects the social issues and conditions of Victorian England during Dickens’ time. The story follows the life of Pip and was an instant success during its original publication.” Pip is an orphan boy who grows up in a small village. One day, a mysterious lady gives Pip money. Now Pip joins the rich people. Through funny characters like Miss Havisham and scary convict Magwitch, Pip learns about love, lies, and who he wants to be.

Summary of Great Expectations

Great Expectations follows the story of Pip, a young boy who grows up in a small village in England. One day, while visiting the local graveyard, he encounters an escaped convict. Terrified, Pip assists the man and is warned never to tell anyone.

Years later, through a mysterious benefactor, Pip is given the means to become a gentleman. He moves to London in pursuit of becoming wealthy and respected. There, Pip meets the wealthy and eccentric Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella.

Pip falls deeply in love with Estella but she only seems to toy with his affections. Through twists and revelations along the way, Pip eventually learns the truth about who has been behind his “Great Expectantion Novel” all along. The novel explores fate, social class, love and guilt as Pip navigates relationships and self-discovery amid the dramatic changes in his life and social standings.

Themes of Great Expectations

Social Class & Mobility

Pip’s experiences highlight the rigid class structure of Victorian England and how his expectations alter his views of social status over time.

Guilt & Secrets

Pip wrestles with feelings of guilt throughout as secrets from his past are revealed, shaping who he becomes as a result of those truths.

Love & Relationships

The complex relationships between Pip, Estella and others explore the heartbreaks of unrequited love as well as how our upbringings inform who we learn to love.

Appearance vs. Reality

Dickens exposes how quickly judgments can be made on surface impressions alone, as many characters prove more multi-dimensional than their outer shells suggest.

Coming-of-Age & Maturation

Pip’s journey from a boy to a man mirrors his process of self-discovery and a better understanding of the world and his place in it through experience.

Fate vs. Free Will

The novel examines whether our lives are pre-determined or if we ultimately shape our own destinies through the choices we make.

Kindness & Generosity

Small acts of goodwill are shown to potentially have big impacts, for better or worse, on the lives they touch whether intentionally or not.

Hypocrisy & Criticism

Victorian social codes are scrutinized through characters’ actions, showing the flaws in rigid systems and thinking through the eyes of an outsider.

Major characters of Great Expectations


The story’s lead character and narrator is Pip. An orphaned boy raised by his sister, he dreams of becoming a gentleman of high social status. Naive but with a good heart, Pip endures many challenges and self-discoveries throughout his journey from a blacksmith’s apprentice to a wealthy socialite.

Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham is a reclusive spinster who raises her adopted daughter Estella to “break hearts.” Left at the altar decades prior, she lives in a dilapidated mansion frozen in the moment of her abandonment, tormenting Pip and others with her bitterness and detachment from the present.


Estella is the beautiful but emotionally stunted ward of Miss Havisham. Trained to be purposefully cruel to manipulate men’s affections, she becomes the object of Pip’s puppy love and obsession, representing his desires for class mobility yet constant out-of-reach longing.

Abel Magwitch

Abel Magwitch is the escaped convict who terrorizes young Pip in the opening scenes but is later revealed to be the mysterious benefactor financing Pip’s expectations. A father figure to the orphaned Pip, Magwitch’s guilty secret shapes Pip’s coming-of-age in dramatic ways.

Joe Gargery

Joe Gargery is Pip’s kind-hearted brother-in-law who takes Pip in as an apprentice blacksmith after Pip’s parents pass. Though uneducated, Joe exhibits great emotional wisdom and compassion towards Pip regardless of their differences in social standing.

These complex characters all influence Pip’s maturation and changing perspectives in nuanced, emotionally-rich portrayals quintessential of Dickens’ masterful storytelling.

Minor characters of Great Expectations

Mr. Wopsle

Mr Wopsle is the eccentric clerk at Pip’s parish church who is always rehearsing lines from Hamlet. While comical, he represents Pip’s early interests in culture and the theatre.


Biddy is a kind-hearted girl who helps teach Pip to read and write. Practical but compassionate, she provides Pip with friendship and comfort through the ups and downs of his life journey.

Uncle Pumblechook

Uncle Pumblechook is Pip’s conceited uncle who acts as a mostly negative influence, taking far more credit than he deserves for Pip’s rise through society.

Herbert Pocket

Herbert Pocket is Pip’s good-hearted yet down-on-his-luck friend in London. Living humbly in the attic, Herbert gives Pip camaraderie and sage advice through Pip’s biggest struggles of growth.


Startop is another of Pip’s London friends who proves loyal despite the differences in their social standings over time.


Compeyson is the man who left Miss Havisham at the altar, contributing to her breakdown and quest for revenge against men.


Orlick is the creepy and menacing former classmate of Pip’s who works for the Pocket family with dark motives.


Molly is Herbert’s sweet sister who cares for her family with kindness and strength through tough times.

These side characters all bring vibrant colours, textures and insights that help flesh out the intricately woven world and themes of the classic novel.


Great Expectations is a great novel by Charles Dickens. Through overcoming challenges with the support of true friends, Pip ultimately learns the themes of fate versus.


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