The Growing Pains of Great Expectations’ Pip and Wuthering Heights’ Cathy

Pip and Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations
Pip and Abel Magwitch

One of the most pleasurable aspects of the novel is the possibility of witnessing the development and growth of the main characters. Throughout the pages, the reader can observe how the life circumstances and events affect the maturation of a particular character and propel him/her to cultivate a unique personality and approach toward the outside world.

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights portray two characters from early childhood to young adulthood – Philip Pirrip (Pip) and Cathy Linton. While the characters obviously differ in their traits, surrounding environment and cardinal events in their lives, they yet share a few fundamental parallels that relate to the most basic aspects of their upbringing. This essay will argue that there are meaningful symmetries in the development of Pip and Cathy in regard to their parentage, the lonely environment they grow up in, close connections and education.

Lack of Parents

 Both Pip and Cathy suffer from a significant parental dysfunction during their upbringing – they are not raised by both their parents and have other people function as their guardians and caretakers.

Pip is an orphan who does not recall his parents at all, and he states right at the beginning of the novel, “I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them” (chapter I). He is raised by his cruel sister, over twenty years older than him and by her kind husband, Joe. When Pip is still a young child, Orlick savagely attacks his sister and she remains unresponsive and disabled until her death years later; thus, Pip loses even his replacement of a mother figure and is raised solely by Joe until he leaves for London.

Pip’s lack of parental figures and warm upbringing seem to have a significant influence on him: he rapidly perceives Miss Havisham as a type of a new maternal figure for himself, whom he fantasizes to be his secret benefactor. In addition, it appears quite easy for him to emotionally and physically detach himself from his home in Kent as he has no strong familial roots there.

Compared to Pip, who does not know both his parents at all, Cathy’s mother dies just a few hours after giving birth to Cathy, and whilst Pip has Joe as his caring paternal figure in his childhood, Nelly Dean plays a similar role in Cathy’s early life as a devoted maternal figure. When Cathy is sixteen, she accidentally meets Heathcliff at the moors and shortly thereafter admits she almost instantly liked him when she realizes that he is her uncle (chapter XXI); this initial prompt liking of Heathcliff can be explained by Cathy’s deep desire for a family and perhaps even a parental figure she lacks.

Later on, she trusts Heathcliff on two separate occasions when he persuades her to visit Linton (chapters XXIII and XXVII) even though she already hears what he is capable of and what sort of malevolent person he is. Perhaps Cathy enters Wuthering Heights twice out of sheer concern for the sickly Linton; however, there is also a possibility that Cathy has some primeval wish that she could trust Heathcliff as a substitute for a parent, especially during a vulnerable period in which her father is dying.

Thus, Pip and Cathy share a similar model of a dysfunctional family, which clearly has a huge analogous influence on them, such as seeing other people as substitutes for the void they have in their own family tree, even if those people are cruel and untrustworthy.

Lonely Environment Growing Up

Cathy Linton portrayed by Juliette Binoche (1992)
Cathy Linton portrayed by Juliette Binoche (1992)

In addition to their intricate family situations, both Pip and Cathy grow up in a lonely environment with almost no age-appropriate friends during their childhood.

Pip does not seem to have any real friends at all until he is eight years old and meets Biddy, who remains his only real friend until he befriends Herbert in London seven or eight years later. The only other child with whom Pip appears to form a relationship is Estella; however, she mistreats and humiliates him and certainly cannot be regarded as a good friend. While Pip’s childhood is lonely, Cathy’s is even lonelier. Due to her father’s grave concern for her, Cathy remains within about a one-mile radius of the premises of her house until she is thirteen years old, during which she is “a perfect recluse” (chapter XVIII).

There seem to be similar social consequences in Pip’s and Cathy’s mature lives as a result of their childhood seclusion: they do not establish many strong relationships, but when they do, those are very impactful and lasting connections.

Pip builds a firm and durable friendship with Herbert in London and even funds his business endeavors without his knowledge; in addition, Pip also gradually befriends Jagger’s clerk, Wemmick, who intimately hosts him at his home on many occasions. As devoted friends, Herbert and Wemmick take a vital part in Pip’s risky attempt to smuggle Magwitch out of the country.

From her side, Cathy also acquires only a couple, yet meaningful, connections. She instantly develops an intense attachment to her sickly cousin, Linton, even before she actually meets him as she asserts that it will be “delightful … to have him for a playfellow” (chapter XIX); although the two have a very volatile relationship, they ultimately get married, and Cathy tends to him until he dies. She likewise immediately connects to Hareton when she coincidentally meets him after she escapes from her house while her father is away (chapter XVIII). The two also have an erratic relationship, but after Linton dies, they get closer until they eventually fall in love.

Thus, Pip and Cathy grow up in a similar reclusive manner, which has comparable effects on the ways they connect to other people later on in their lives.


Another important element that has a prominent function in the lives of Pip and Cathy is education, by which they similarly judge others and are judged in accordance with society’s different classes’ conventions.

As a young child, Pip receives a very basic and very poor education at the evening school of Mr. Wopsle and his great-aunt (chapter VII). Compared to Joe, who can barely spell his own name, this deficient level of education does not seem problematic to Pip at first; however, later on, at Miss Havisham’s house, he is harshly derided by Estella for his brutish demeanor and education, which makes him feel “humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry” (chapter VIII). Pip decides to improve his level of education by taking private tutoring from Biddy (chapter X), further reading himself (chapter XV) and with the help of Herbert in London (chapter XXII), which perhaps makes him more learned and a gentleman who, in the end, even wins Estella, but it also makes him distant and deeply ashamed of Joe and his past.

Whereas Pip begins his educational journey from the bottom and steadily works his way up, Cathy receives an excellent education right from the start. Yet, regardless of their starting point, the two still share a strong desire to learn more and a tenacious will to enhance their knowledge. Cathy’s father homeschools her, and although he is soft to her due to her “curiosity and a quick intellect,” she grows to be “an apt scholar” whilst “learn[ing] rapidly and eagerly” (chapter XVIII). When Cathy meets Hareton for the first time, they get along splendidly; but when they meet again a few years later, discovering that he is uneducated and cannot read, she insults and ridicules him with Linton (chapter XXI). Cathy continues to mock Hareton for his attempts to learn to read, but finally, through education, they connect again – Cathy shares her books with him and teaches him herself how to read properly, and they fall in love.

For both Pip and Cathy, education is an intrinsic part of their development that can divide them and others, but it can also be used as a way to bridge between them and eventual closest partners.

Pip and Cathy grow up in very different places, belong to a different social class, and have different personalities. Nonetheless, in spite of the distinctions between them, some of their most elemental aspects in life do correlate, as illustrated, which thrusts the two characters to corresponding choices and decisions in their separate paths. For instance, both sacrifice themselves to help others: Pip tries to help Magwitch to escape and risks his own freedom, and Cathy marries Linton just to see her father for the last time as “[h]e die[s] blissfully” (chapter XXVIII).

At the end of their literary journey, after both of them endure many obstacles, ordeals and loss of loved ones, Pip and Cathy reach the same destination: they finally find real happiness and true love. That presents the concluding last symmetry between them and the last one of this essay.