A "pip" is a small seed, something that starts off tiny and then grows and develops into something new. Pip's name, then, is no accident, as Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, a story of the growth and development of its main character. Dickens presents the ambition to improve oneself that drives Pip along with many of the novel's secondary characters as a force capable of generating both positive and negative results. Pip's early ambitions focus on elevating his social class, on making himself into someone who seems worthy of Estella, but in the process he turns himself into someone who feels like a sham, is unkind to those who were kindest to him such as Joe and Provis, and ruins himself financially. Through these humbling experiences, Pip eventually comes to understand self-improvement as a more complex process involving moral and spiritual development as well. Pip's own ambitions are echoed by the self-improvement efforts of secondary characters like Joe and Ms. Havisham, who learn to write and to empathize, respectively, at Pip's encouragement.
Ambition and Self-Improvement ThemeTracker
Ambition and Self-Improvement Quotes in Great Expectations
"…lies is lies. Howsoever they come, they didn't ought to come, and they come from the father of lies, and work round to the same. Don't you tell no more of ‘em, Pip. That ain't the way to get out of being common, old chap…If you can't get to be uncommon through going straight, you'll never get to do it through going crooked."
…as Joe and Biddy became more at their cheerful ease again, I became quite gloomy. Dissatisfied with my fortune, of course I could not be; but it is possible that I may have been, without quite knowing it, dissatisfied with myself.
"...it is a principle of [Matthew Pocket's] that no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner. He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood, and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself."
For now my repugnance to [Provis] had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.
We owed so much to Herbert's ever cheerful industry and readiness that I often wondered how I had conceived the old idea of his inaptitude, until I was one day enlightened by the reflection that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me.
"…now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape."