The main character in the novel Great Expectations is Pip, who throughout his early life tries to climb the social ladder. The main driving force behind this ambition is his shame at having come from an impoverished background. Wealth suddenly came his way via an anonymous benefactor. The initial elation gradually gives way to arrogance. But eventually he comes to realise that no degree of wealth will bring him his one true desire in life; the love of Estella.
Pip undergoes many changes in his lifestyle and gradually changes from a warm, kind and giving person at the beginning of the story to a snobbish, arrogant and cold person when he comes into money and then eventually he changes back into that caring and compassionate person he was before his newfound riches. In other words his character travels full circle and he finds real happiness when he discovers his true and natural self.
During the opening chapter of the novel Pip is confronted by a convict, later discovered to be Abel Magwitch. He helps the man by getting him food, water and a file to cut himself free of his chains. This traumatic event early in his life may have had a significant influence on Pip’s character. His experience may have developed his caring and considerate nature. Pip’s anonymous benefactor is none other than Abel Magwitch himself, who after serving his sentence in Australia remained there and made good. He has never forgottenthe help given to him by young Pip. Perhaps if Pip had known the source of his sudden prosperity he may have dwelled a little on the circumstances and been a little more humble about his newfound status in society. This isn’t the case however and Pip squanders a large portion of the money given to him by Magwitch.
Pip’s main aim in life is too achieve a higher social status, he believes that this would be easier for him because of his wealth, but he is mistaken. He may have been better off money wise but this didn’t increase his popularity with the young up and coming gentlemen around him. His peers. The people he admired. The people whom he aimed to emulate. These very same people ridiculed him because of his upbringing, i.e. the fact that his family was poverty stricken and he was an orphan and had not had a privileged childhood. Pip is embarrassed by his sudden realisation of the difference in his class and the class of the people in London whom he wishes to join. He rejects his family, especially his brother-in-law Joe, a gentle giant of a man, who has been a father to Pip and a very kind father at that.
Eventually Pip learns that Magwitch is his benefactor and this helps to bring him back to his senses and to his former compassionate self. Despite these ups and downs in Pip’s character, there is one constant and that is his love for Estella. She goes through major character changes too. She changes from hating men due to her upbringing by the strange and seemingly cold-hearted Miss Havisham, to becoming his true love.
During this latter part of the book Pip goes through many traumas. He is nearly murdered. He is badly burned while rescuing Miss Havisham from the burning Satis House and he is with Magwitch when he dies. While he is dying, Pip tells Magwitch that his daughter – who turns out to be none other than Estella – is still alive. Joe, whom Pip has more or less rejected comes and looks after Pip when he is ill.
All these events are emotional events and contribute to Pip’s change of outlook on life and his realisation that the people he admired in London, despite their wealth and status, are not really worthy of that admiration. Gaining sudden wealth had a major impact on Pip’s character, but that impact was proven to be only superficial. His true personality was actually moulded by the series of dramas that were enacted throughout the story.