Parents and children

Absent parents

Several of the main characters grow up without the love and support of their parents:

  • Pip is an orphan and only knows his parents from their gravestones
  • Estella has no idea of her true parentage
  • Magwitch grows up fending for himself.

Substitute parents

Those without parents are delivered into the hands of substitute parents who are not necessarily the ideal guardians for children:

  • Pip receives a harsh upbringing at the hands of Mrs. Joe, although the presence of the kindly Joe mitigates some of his sister's strictness
  • Estella is physically well-cared for by Miss Havisham, but is manipulated by her into a contempt for men and an inability to love
  • Magwitch appoints himself as a kind of second father to Pip, but does not realize that by doing so he creates an individual who is profoundly dislocated from his true environment and is unable to cope with a sudden access to wealth.

Unsatisfactory parents

The parents who are present in the novel are not very satisfactory:

  • Herbert Pocket has a kindly but ineffectual father, and a mother who is so absorbed in social pretension and snobbery that she neglects her children
  • Clara Barley's father, the retired sailor, is heard but never seen – he is a tyrant who keeps Clara trapped at home constantly waiting on him.
  • What general conclusions can you draw from the absence and presence of parents in the novel?
  • What does Dickens seem to be saying about family life?
  • Are there any positive images of child-parent (real or substitute) relationships in the novel?
  • Do they have any features in common?
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