Every good novel must endure some conflicts and none more is truer of this than Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Great Expectations has more than its share of conflicts for many of the characters. The protagonist, Pip is forced to face the majority of these throughout his struggle and journey to becoming a man. There are countless conflicts for Pip between himself and another character and with society. However, the main conflict of Great Expectations is undoubtedly between Pip and himself and his extremely powerful conscience.
Pip attempts to achieve great things for himself while still holding on to his morals and values along the way. He must distinguish what means the most to him and figure out where his priorities lay. Are wealth and social advancement more important to him than loyalty and character? The change he goes through from a young boy to a man challenges his values when he is forced to make important life-altering decisions.
Pip Versus Self
- Pip’s desire to win over the love of Estella is a very powerful challenge that he needs to settle with himself. He feels so rejected and devastated at Estella’s reaction to him that he feels the need to change himself completely to be worthy of her and obtain her approval. He goes as far as to leave his home and those who truly love him in search of an education and a chance at a higher social class, spurring on his internal struggle as to how far he should change for her.
- He rejects the loving and caring relationship he had developed with Joe and Bitty, those who truly cared for him for a chance to pursue Estella. He is both devoted to them but also ashamed of them all at the same time. Joe and Bitty represent everything that he does not want to be associated with. Whenever, the opportunity arises for Pip to reunite with them, he experiences mixed feelings and is torn between embracing them and rejecting them.
- When Pip finally finds out that Magwitch, the convict had been his secret benefactor all these years, he meets a great inner conflict within himself. Pip had always refused to see anything in Magwitch and believed society had it had told him that convicts were nothing but low cold-hearted non-deserving criminals at the lowest end of the social rankings. When Magwitch returns as the reason for all his wealth and success as a gentleman, Pip must reconsider his values and eventually comes to accept Magwitch for the loving, caring man that he is.
- In the final stages of Pip’s struggles, he realizes that his search for Estella’s approval of him have prevented him from enjoying his real life of loving friends and values. Once he recognizes this, he returns to his former life and true friends. It shows that Pip needed to establish his own morals instead of the ones that others and society have encouraged him to believe were his.
- It has been said that the antagonist in Pip’s life had been himself all along. It had been the set of expectations that Pip had lead him to believe that made him act the way he did. By doing so, Pip believed that he had to distance himself from those who had been kindest to him. He also allowed himself to believe in the idea of marrying Estella. The character of Estella, herself does not appear nearly as often as the thought of her does in Pip’s mind suggesting that he had pushed the idea of her onto himself because of her external qualities and not of her true character as he was never even happy when he was with her. In the end, however, he learns that self-worth comes from inside and turns away from his “great expectations”.
Pip Versus Society
- Pip needs to tear himself away from societies’ beliefs such as the ever so important social class standings by changing the way he treats the different-classed people. Must he make those judgements based on his own understanding of their characters or rely on the prejudice that society has set for him?
- He wants to become successful and wealthy and well respected in society but in doing so, must he give up his loyalty to his loved ones?
Pip Versus Others
- Pip’s need to obtain the return of Estella’s love
- Pip and his resentment of the treatment he receives from his sister Mrs Joe
- Pip and Joe in which they had to accept the growing distance between their relationship
- Pip and the complicated relationship with Magwitch, both the convict and his benefactor
- Pip and Biddy in which they get along well but is distanced because of Pip’s need for social advancement
- Pip and Drummle’s struggle to obtain Estella’s love or rather more correctly, her hand in marriage and the way in which Drummle taunts Pip with this
- Pip and the envy and resentment of Orlick where Orlick later tries to murder Pip after successfully disabling Mrs. Joe
- Pip and Compeyson in Pip’s fight to keep Magwitch safe and Compeyson’s need for his revenge on Magwitch
- Pip and the struggle to keep his friendship alive with Herbert Pocket and his other acquaintances
Minor Conflicts Between The Other Characters
- Abel Magwitch's conflict with Compeyson
- Estella’s internal conflict with herself about being heartless
- Estella’s conflict with Miss Havisham being raised to behave so heartlessly
- Miss Havisham’s internal conflict when stood up at her own marriage
- Miss Havisham’s conflict with Compeyson
- Orlick’s conflict with Mrs. Joe
- Mrs. Joe’s inner conflict
- Joe’s conflict with Mrs. Joe
- Miss Havisham’s conflict with all of her greedy relatives (eg. The Pockets)
- Biddy's rise from servant to Joe's wife