Pip is the protagonist of Great Expectations. As a boy he seems unsure of his own self-worth and place in the world. His parents are dead, and he has no idea what they looked like. Pip is raised by his bad-tempered sister, Mrs. Joe, and her husband, a blacksmith named Joe Gargery. However, Mrs. Joe often beats Pip and tells him she wishes he was never born. As a result Pip has a sense of inferiority. Fortunately Joe befriends Pip and tries to protect him as much as possible. Because of this, Pip forms a strong bond with the simple, kind Joe and looks forward to being his apprentice. However, Miss Havisham triggers Pip's sense of inferiority. Under her influence Pip comes to view being a blacksmith's apprentice as common. To attain validation as a person, Pip believes he must rise to the upper class and win over Estella, an opportunity granted to him by a mysterious benefactor.
Estella is the adopted daughter of the recluse, Miss Havisham, and—as readers discover at the end of the story—the biological daughter of Molly and Magwitch. She is groomed by Miss Havisham to become an instrument of the recluse's vengeance. Under Miss Havisham's influence, Estella suppresses her natural desire for love and to express love. As a result her own heart has grown cold.
Miss Havisham comes from a wealthy family that gained a fortune through a brewery. As a young woman Miss Havisham develops into a proud and headstrong person. She becomes engaged to a man even though relatives warn her against it. When the man jilts Miss Havisham on her wedding day, he deeply wounds her. Miss Havisham becomes a recluse for whom time stopped on her wedding day.
Abel Magwitch is an escaped convict who tells young Pip to get food and a file for him. At first Magwitch appears to be a terrifying, hardened criminal who for some reason hates another convict named Compeyson. An early indication that more lies beneath Magwitch comes when he takes responsibility for stealing food even though Pip stole it. Later Pip learns about Magwitch's hard life growing up in poverty without parents and then his life as a transported convict in Australia.
Joe Gargery is a blacksmith who befriends his wife's young brother, Pip. Joe is a simple, kind man who accepts his life and wants nothing more. Joe values hard work, honesty, and friendship. He has respect and integrity. Joe changes only by acting awkwardly toward Pip after the young man becomes a gentleman.