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Great Expectations

Great Expectations


by Charles Dickens

Tools of Characterization

Character Analysis


We're pretty sure Dickens had one party of a time cooking up the names in this novel. For example, Pip is the nickname Pip gave himself, because he could not say his full name (Phillip Pirrip). So, the name Pip is distilled, simplified, and compact version of his full name. It is also a palindrome, like "Hannah" or "mom." What's weird is that Pip keeps his nickname forever, which maybe suggests that a little part of him keeps his innocence and simplicity.

Or Magwitch: he pretty much collects names, but we like this one the best, mainly because it sounds like a magnet met a witch. The "witch" part of his name is very interesting, because we fancy him to be a bit of a magician himself, a bit of a mysterious creature. He produces all kinds of money and finds a way to get it to Pip without Pip knowing who sent it. He's able to make his fortune in a relatively short amount of time in New South Wales.

Estella's name means "star," because obviously: she's out of Pip's reach, and she's always climbing things as a little girl. At one point, Pip sees her climbing a ladder in the brewery, and it looks like she's climbing into the sky. She's the beacon of light that Pip reaches toward, but, like the stars, she's twinkly and she's too far away.

Even minor characters get the name-treatment: the "lick" in Orlick is so greasy and overpowering about his name that we feel like we've been slimed every time we hear it. Or the drum-like Drummle, who's heavy, relentless, and abusive—which makes sense, since his name sounds like "pummel." And then there's Jaggers, which sounds appropriately like a jagged dagger: he's edgy, sharp, rough, and to the point.


Pip's boots are his first clue that something is wrong. Estella makes fun of Pip for his coarse hands and his thick boots, both of which are indicative of a boy from a working class family, who has to help out with chores and who gets his hands dirty every so often. Eventually, Pip, upon coming into fortune, is asked to buy new clothes, but is too ashamed to actually wear them around his hometown. He does a fashion show at home, but it's way awkward. Clothes are a huge indicator of social standing. Beyond that day, we never really hear about Pip's clothes. We just know that he buys a lot of jewelry (the bills keep piling up), and he and Drummle have another boot encounter.

And then there's Miss Havisham:

I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the Fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, waxwork and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. (8.33)

Miss Havisham is both a walking corpse and a preserved memory. She wears her wedding dress (which she never got to use), her veil, one shoe, and really tattered silk stockings. What else would you expect from a woman living in a haunted house?


Most people in this novel have a very well defined occupation or role in society, and in scrutinizing these roles we get a greater sense of how society functions and what job opportunities there were back then.

For example, Joe is a blacksmith. He runs a smithy and does ironwork for the local area. He works at his forge, heating and bending iron into shape. He creates things and, though he's rough and unrefined compared to Miss Havisham's set, Joe is one of the (if not THE) most honest, generous, and good-hearted people in Pip's life. He doesn't desire wealth and fortune in the way that Pip does, but, rather, is content with his life and proud of his job.

Jaggers is a lawyer who defends London's criminals. He dwells in the bustling heart of London, and his office is right next to the prison. Whether he's in court or at the Three Jolly Bargeman, Jaggers brings his profession and his skills as a lawyer with him wherever he goes. There's no delineation between work and home life. Hello, work-life balance? Paging HR?

And then there's Herbert. Herbert is a gentleman, but he doesn't want to lounge around all day like a rich guy: he wants adventure and creativity in his position as shipping merchant. When Pip's self-destruction is complete, and when he's finally let go of his dreams, he goes to Cairo to work for Herbert, and he finds happiness at last: "many a year went round, before I was partner in the house; but I lived happily with Herbert and his wife, and lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe" (58.64). In the end, Pip seems to become content and self-sufficient through his work rather than some vague notion of himself as a gentleman.

The only characters who don't have clearly defined roles or jobs? The rich and the criminal. Think about that.