What are the setting, problem of the story, climax, events leading to resolution, and ending of the novel Great Expectations by Charles Dickens?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While short stories usually have a singleness of setting, conflict and climax, in novels there are often multiple settings and conflicts.  Such is the case, of course, with Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.  In fact, the novel itself is divided into three parts, a division which indicates that there are various elements at work in the extensive narrative of Dickens. However, here is an outline of the key elements to consider:

SETTING:  Victorian England (mid-nineteenth century), the marshes  and London

CONFLICTS:  There are both internal and external conflicts. 

A. internal--

  1. Pip wishes to become a gentleman (move upward in social class) and not be considered "coarse" so that he can marry Estella and be respected by people of the upper class. 
  2. He wrestles with guilt over his rejection of Joe as not fitting to be associated with.
  3. He also wrestles with his repulsion of Provis (Magwitch) and his gratitude for the man when the old convict visits him in London.
  4. Pip has conflicting feelings about Estella, as well.

B. external

  1. Pip initially comes into conflict with the grey convict and Mrs. Joe
  2. Earlier on and later in the novel, Pip comes into conflict with the envious Orlick who years later seeks revenge against Pip for his having been fired by Joe.
  3. He conflicts with Estella who mocks him and reacts to his offers of affection with disinterest and coldness.
  4. He struggles against Miss Havisham, whom he believes his benefactor and who teaches Estella to be cruel towards him.
  5. Pip is a rival of Bentley Drummle and jealous of Estella's attention to him.
  6. Pip struggles against Compeyson as he and Herbert try to get Provis on a ship leaving England.


  1. Between Chapters L and LVI there are moments of high intensity to the conflicts mentioned above. 
  2. Orlick tries to kill Pip.
  3. Pip and Herbert attempt to get Provis out of London and escape hanging.
  4. Pip saves Miss Havisham from the fire and is burned himself.
  5. At the end of the novel, Pip meets Estella for the last time.


  1. After Magwitch is captured and lies dying, Pip consoles him and grows to love the old convict. 
  2. When Joe comes to Pip's aid after the fire, Pip apologizes for his cruelty and begs forgiveness; Joe and he reconcile. 
  3. Pip aids Herbert who goes on to marry and live a good life.
  4. Pip returns to the forge.
  5. Pip talks with Estella and pledges friendship.


  1. Pip returns to the forge and country life, abandoning the falseness of his life in London. 
  2. He realizes that goodness does not lie in one's social class, but in one's heart instead. 
  3. Finally, Pip acknowledges that he and Estella will never marry.




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Great Expectations

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