Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Chapters 2 and 3 Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 opens with Pip describing his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, and her husband, Joe Gargery. Mrs. Joe, as Pip calls her, is more than twenty years older than Pip and has a reputation for bringing him up "by hand," meaning that she frequently beats him. She uses the same "hand" on her husband. In contrast, Joe is described as "a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face . . . mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going." Pip describes Mrs. Joe as Joe's opposite: "My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin . . . She was tall and bony, and almost always wore a coarse apron."

Following the description of Joe and Mrs. Joe, the action continues with Pip arriving home from the confrontation he had in the cemetery in chapter 1. Joe tells Pip that Mrs. Joe is out looking for him for the thirteenth time and that she has "Tickler" with her. Tickler is a tool she uses to whip Pip. As Joe is explaining this, Mrs. Joe comes through the door and, finding Pip hiding behind it, grabs him and throws him into Joe. Pip explains that he was in the churchyard. Mrs. Joe rages at Pip that she brought him up by hand and wouldn't do it again if she had the choice. As she yells, Pip's mind drifts to the conversation he had with the convict and how he is going to deliver the food and file.

Mrs. Joe prepares tea after suggesting that Pip and Joe are going to send her to an early grave. She cuts the bread in a “trenchant way,” and though Pip is hungry, he does not eat his bread, as he plans to save it for the man in the churchyard. Pip has difficulty because Joe is watching him closely and trying to engage him in their “usual friendly competition” in how they eat their bread. Pip waits for a moment when Joe is looking at his bread, and then he slides his own bread down his pant leg.

When Joe notices Pip’s bread gone, he assumes Pip swallowed it whole and is concerned about his health. Mrs. Joe notices something is wrong and hits Joe’s head against the wall a few times until he agrees to share what he and Pip are talking about. Joe talks to Pip as if it’s just the two of them and says that he’s concerned about how fast he “bolted” his food. Mrs. Joe grabs him by the hair and tells him to “come along and be dosed.”

Both Pip and Joe are dosed with “tar-water.” Pip gets a full pint, while Joe gets a half a pint. In addition to this punishment, Pip is feeling tremendous guilt about the bread in his pants leg. He feels guilty about robbing Mrs. Joe, though he doesn’t feel like he’s robbing Joe, because Pip doesn’t consider anything related to cooking or housekeeping as belonging to Joe. His feelings of guilt are interrupted by a wind coming through the marsh that, at times, sounds like the voice of the man from the churchyard. He worries that the young man the convict told him about might come after his life.

It is Christmas Eve, and Pip is assigned to stir the pudding for Christmas day; he finds this task impossible with the bread down his pants leg, so he escapes to his room to remove it.

Just before bed, Pip hears the sound of “great guns,” and Joe says that the sound of the guns means that a convict has escaped. Pip and Joe engage in a silent conversation, moving their lips but making no noise. Pip asks Joe to explain what a convict is, and Joe offers an answer too complicated for Pip to understand anything but the word “Pip.” Out loud, Joe clarifies that this is actually the second convict to escape; another escaped the night before. Pip wants to know who is firing the guns, and Mrs. Joe tells him to stop asking so many questions. Joe mouths a word that looks like “sulks,” and Pip thinks he’s talking about Mrs. Joe. Pip finally asks Mrs. Joe directly who is firing the guns, and Mrs. Joe clarifies that the sound is coming from the “hulks.” Pip continues to ask questions about what the hulks are and who gets put into prison ships and why. Mrs. Joe gets fed up with him asking and finally says, “People are put in the Hulks because they do murder, and because they rob, and forge, and do all sorts of bad; and they always begin by asking questions.” She sends him to bed in the dark, as he is never allowed a candle to take with him.

As Pip goes to bed, he worries that he will end up in the hulks as well, since he is robbing Mrs. Joe and asking lots of questions.

An older Pip interjects that “few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror” and remembers how terrified he was of the men he encountered in the churchyard. He was also afraid of both himself and his sister.

When Pip wakes up after a restless night, dawn is just breaking. He goes downstairs to rob the pantry, and the boards that creak under his feet seem to be a warning for him to stop and a call for Mrs. Joe to wake up and catch him. He opens the pantry and notices that it has more food than usual, as well as a hare that caught hanging by its feet. He imagines the hare winks at him, but he doesn’t have time to confirm. He steals bread, cheese, a half jar of mincemeat, brandy, a meat bone, and a pork pie. He goes into a different room and gets a file from Joe’s tools. He then runs back out to the marshes.

Chapter 3

As Pip runs across the marsh, the freezing, damp mist makes everything seem as though it’s running at him rather than the other way around—a sense which increases the guilt he feels over stealing the food and file. He runs past cattle and a black ox; the latter looks at him so directly that Pip actually apologizes to it and says, “I couldn’t help it, sir! It wasn’t for myself I took it!” The ox snorts and turns away, vanishing.

Pip continues to run and notices that, no matter how fast he runs, he cannot get warm. He knows the way to the Battery because he has been there with Joe. He overshoots his destination, though, and has to turn back along the riverside. As he is backtracking, he sees a man sitting, his back to Pip. Pip assumes it is the convict he spoke to before, so he approaches the man and touches his shoulder. The man jumps, and Pip realizes it is a different man. This man is dressed, like the other, in gray and also has an iron on his leg. The man swears and tries to hit Pip but misses. The man runs off into the mist, and Pip loses sight of him. Pip believes this person to be the young man who may be after his heart and liver, and he rushes to the Battery.

Once he reaches the Battery, he sees the convict who demanded the food. Pip hands over the food and, when asked, tells the convict the bottle contains brandy. As the convict eats, Pip tells him that he likely has ague because of sleeping in the marshes. The convict eats ravenously and confirms that Pip didn’t bring anyone with him. Pip swears he did not, and the convict believes him. The convict appears to become teary-eyed and wipes his eyes with his sleeve. Seeing this, Pip says that he is glad the convict enjoyed the food. He recalls seeing a dog of his eat and notes the similarities between how the man is eating and his dog.

Pip suggests that the food he brought is all he has and that he’s afraid there won’t be enough for the other man. The convict says that he won’t want any food, and Pip says that he looks as if he did. The convict is surprised and asks when Pip saw another man. Pip tells him and then asks if the convict heard the cannon the night before. The convict heard it but tells Pip that with hunger and cold “he hears nothin’ all night, but guns firing, and voices calling.” He asks if Pip noticed anything specific about the man. Pip says that he had a bruised face. The convict asks about the specific part of his face, and Pip confirms that the location of the bruise is on his left cheek.

The convict asks Pip to show him where the man went because he’s going to kill him. He needs the file first and asks Pip for it. Pip shows the convict the direction the other man went, and after noting it, the convict drops to the ground with the file and begins to work at the iron on his leg. Pip watches the convict work on his bloody, chafed leg and becomes afraid all over again. He tells the convict he needs to leave, but the convict doesn’t notice. Pip leaves, hearing only the sound of the file as he disappears into the mist.

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Chapter 1


Chapters 4 and 5