Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Chapters 16 and 17 Summary

Chapter 16

Pip learns more about the assault upon his sister. Joe left her for the evening to smoke a pipe at the Three Jolly Bargemen. When he returned home, Mrs. Joe was on the floor bleeding, and a candle lighting the room had been snuffed out. Nothing was stolen from the house, but the criminal did leave one accessory behind: a filed leg iron.

Pip believes the iron belonged to the convict he helped as a child, but he is not convinced the convict committed this crime. He suspects Orlick or the stranger who possessed the file are the likeliest culprits. However, Orlick was in town for much of the day, and the only motive he might have against Mrs. Joe is the bad temper she directs against everyone. Meanwhile, the stranger's only motive could have been recovering the two bank notes he gave Pip, but Pip knows his sister would have been willing to give them back. So, he dismisses both these theories.

Pip feels responsible for his sister's trauma and considers confessing to Joe that he helped the convict. Nothing ever comes of this, because Pip decides the event is so far in the past and such a major part of his life that he "cannot tear it away." He decides he will only confess it if it can help in the capture of Mrs. Joe's attacker.

Detectives from London come into the village to solve the crime, but they are unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Mrs. Joe is now more placid, but she is unable to speak properly or remember things well. She communicates by writing on a slate, but her poor spelling and Joe's poor reading skills make communication between them difficult when Pip is not there to decipher her messages. Biddy is eventually brought in to act as an attendant to Mrs. Joe.

Mrs. Joe begins constantly writing an upper-case T on her slate, and no one is able to understand what she means by it. Pip initially thinks it is a request for something that starts with the letter T, such as toast, but then comes to assume it is meant to be a drawing of a hammer. He brings out all the hammers in the house, but Mrs. Joe refuses them all. When Pip brings in a crutch, since her writing resembles that as well, she also responds negatively.

Biddy eventually discovers that Mrs. Joe is specifically asking for Orlick. The T is meant to signify the hammer Orlick uses on the forge, since Mrs. Joe cannot spell Orlick's name. Pip initially expects Mrs. Joe to get angry at Orlick, but instead she strives to please him. After they learn this, Mrs. Joe asks for Orlick by drawing the hammer almost every day.

Chapter 17

Pip continues to visit Miss Havisham, but the visits are always the same, with Miss Sarah Pocket answering the door and Miss Havisham praising Estella's beauty before giving Pip a guinea and sending him on his way. Every time Pip visits, he becomes more bitter about his lowly place in the...

(The entire section is 773 words.)