Pip. What a simple name for such a complex guy. That’s right, he’s deep as the English Channel and more multi-dimensional than an M.C. Escher drawing. We’re a bit attached to him, because, you see, we basically grow up with him over the course of 59 chapters. We follow him everywhere he goes, and we get to hear his thoughts. We also can’t help but see ourselves in him and in his lovesick ways.
A perfect storm swirls inside of little Pip, for he is an orphan (his parents died long before he can remember), and his sister begrudgingly raises him, subjecting him to all kinds of punishment and wrath. Though he is loved and adopted by Joe Gargery (his sister’s husband), Pip is pretty much alone in the world.
When he meets a convict in the cemetery, he is scared of the convict and of what his sister will do when she finds he’s stolen from her, but he also has no qualms helping the convict out. Pip’s pretty brave, even as a young chap. He’s only six years old when he meets this scary man, but he keeps cool.
Pip also has an amazing imagination, as exemplified by the tales he tells his sister and Mr. Pumblechook of Miss Havisham’s velvet carriage and massive dogs that eat veal cutlets out of silver baskets. If it weren’t for Joe’s presence in his life, Pip would not feel as though he had triggered any moral bombs by lying to his sister and Pumblechook. Joe helps to reign Pip in and helps him to make sense of himself in the context of the marshy world. The problem is that Pip travels beyond the marshy world.
It is only when Pip meets Miss Havisham and Estella that Pip starts to hate his boots and his coarse hands and everything that they represent. We feel like we know exactly how he feels when he kicks Miss Havisham’s garden wall and twists his hair, crying at having been treated like a dirty dog. Pip’s dreams are formed in this moment, and we’re pretty sure they are formed out of humiliation and the desire to be loved.
So, to summarize, Pip is motherless, fatherless, poor, and subject to lots of beatings and hair rumpling. To top that off, when he leaves the world that he knows so well to become Estella’s playmate, he is abused some more. Joe is his only friend and hero, and while they are the best of friends, Joe is only a blacksmith and is unable to prevent his wife from terrorizing Pip. Pip gets kicked around a lot. It’s no wonder he wants to live among the stars.
Pip’s reason for being, breathing, living, dying, working, and dreaming is Estella. So, it makes life really hard when this said reason doesn’t really care about him, no matter how hard he tries. It makes life so hard, that a 500-page novel results. Pip spins the most beautiful language for Estella, but she remains unmoved. Pip, in spite of himself and in spite of the fact that he knows that Estella is absolutely wrong for him and will only bring him misery, loves Estella and recognizes the horrible childhood she has endured. In many ways she has grown up in the same way he has. They are both abused orphans, and Pip wants to fill the darkness of her past with sunshine and glow sticks. The ferocity and strength of his love for Estella in spite of her scorn for him is stunning in light of the fact that he himself ignores the people who love him most in life.
Pip’s expectations of life are constantly unmet. It’s like a train of expectation-demolition. Upon being introduced to "high society," Pip expects to one day have the wealth and privilege that that society represents. Upon coming into fortune, Pip expects to become a gentleman and to marry Estella. Upon meeting his benefactor, Pip’s hopes for love and money are dashed, but he has a new expectation: that he will help Magwitch safely leave the country. When this expectation is not met, Pip doesn’t know what to do with himself, and so decides to take a little expectation-break.
When Pip recovers from his horrible illness, Pip expects to gain Joe’s forgiveness and to marry Biddy. When Pip finds that Biddy has married Joe, he gives up on expectation-making. For good. He’s worn out for all of the dashed hopes and ruined expectations. Biddy and Joe’s forgiveness comes easily, but that makes sense. Their affection is not tied to any contract or expectation. True love and friendship, Pip comes to find, are beyond expectations.