Creation of character

Character is created in several ways:

The creation of Pip

  • Pip tells the story of his life, in language that reflects his age and awareness as he matures
  • Pip the adult often comments on his earlier self, criticizing and explaining his false steps
  • Mrs. Joe, Mr. Pumblechook, Miss Havisham and Estella show their opinions of Pip, though this tells the reader as much about them as it does about Pip
  • the reader is also aware of Biddy's gentle reproaches to Pip.

(See also Narrative: Pip as narrator)

The creation of other characters

The reader sees every character from Pip's point of view:

  • it is part of the convention of the first person narrative (see Narrative: Pip as narrator) that the narrator describes other characters accurately and records their speech faithfully;
  • his judgments on the characters may, however, be unreliable, and the reader of Great Expectations soon learns to be wary of accepting everything that Pip says.


Dickens had a great interest in the ways in which people use their bodies, their movements and gestures, both deliberately and involuntarily:

  • he is therefore, often accused of creating caricatures - broadly drawn characters who are readily identified by a few physical and verbal gestures, but who are without psychological depth
  • however, it is also possible to see this as a common way of perceiving others– especially in a large and populous city like London, where Dickens set most of his fiction
  • furthermore, as social psychologists (writing since Dickens' time) have shown, physical action is vital to the understanding of character – what we now call ‘body language'
  • we can therefore, learn a great deal about Mr. Jaggers from his finger-biting and hand washing; about Orlick from his slouch; or about Mr. Pumblechook from his hand-shaking.


Dickens creates very distinctive modes of speaking for his characters:

  • as with physical gestures, these will have made them easily remembered and recognized by readers of the novel in serialized form
  • like physical gestures, modes of speech can be very revealing of character, not just through the words spoken, but by tone, rhythm and emphasis.
  • The best way of understanding how speech works in the novel is to look at small examples and to analyse how the characters talks and what this tells us about the person concerned: for example, the conversation between Miss Havisham and Pip when they first meet in Chapter 9:
    • Miss Havisham exercises her power over Pip by questioning him and making him feel uncomfortable;
    • she is also very self-dramatising and self-absorbed, in the way she puts her hand over heart and declares that it is ‘Broken!';
    • her conversation with Estella is more private, deliberately excluding Pip and quietly urging the girl to ‘Beggar him'.
  • now select two or three other characters, either in a single speech or in dialogue with others, and analyse the ways in which their speech is revealing of their character.
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