Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Chapters 22 and 23 Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Chapter 22

As the chapter opens, having gotten over his shock that Herbert Pocket is the "pale young gentleman" and feeling at ease with him, Pip notes,

I have never seen any one since, who more strongly expressed to me, in every look and tone, a natural incapacity to do anything secret and mean.

They rapidly become friends, and Herbert continues to reinforce the idea that Miss Havisham is Pip's benefactress by telling him how close she is to Mr. Jaggers. Herbert is also glad to help Pip, who confides his insecurity at going from blacksmith's apprentice to gentleman. The goodhearted Herbert nicknames Pip "Handel."

As a child, Pip knew that Miss Havisham had been jilted because he saw her in her wedding gown amid the ruined splendors of her wedding table, but now Pocket can provide more of the adult backstory. Miss Havisham was seduced by a ruffian of coarse grain who took a good deal of her money and left her at the altar. This was a scheme that the man entered into with her half-brother, and the two men divided the profits. But Herbert doesn't have all the answers about Miss Havisham. When Pip asks why this evil man didn't simply marry her and get all the property, Herbert opines that perhaps he was already married. He also doesn't know anything about Estella's adoption.

The next afternoon, Herbert takes Pip to see his new rooms and meet his family in Hammersmith. Mrs. Pocket is shown to be an inadequate mother. She reads a book and lets her children, under the care of two nursemaids, "tumble" all around them. She largely ignores her offspring, and when she has spent a scant amount of time with them, she sends them away for a nap. The chapter ends with Pip not too surprised that Mr. Pocket looks perplexed and haphazard himself. This vignette establishes that Pip has entered a very insecure world.

Chapter 23

In this chapter, Pip meets the kind and sincere Mr. Pocket and learns more about the incompetence of Mrs. Pocket, who leaves most of the housework to be done by the servants. Pip is also introduced to a world of sycophants and poseurs beneath the genial surface of London society. For example, he meets the Pockets' aptly named "toady neighbor" Mrs. Coiler, and we learn from Pip that

[she] began to flatter me. I liked it for a few moments, but she flattered me so very grossly that the pleasure was soon over. She had a serpentine way of coming close at me when she pretended to be vitally interested in the friends and localities I had left, which was altogether snaky and fork-tongued.

The household also consists of people who are at the peripheries of class and money but who have not actually achieved or inherited success. For instance, Bentley Drummle "was actually the next heir but one to a baronetcy," a meaningless designation. This suggests that perhaps rising to the precarious gentleman class is not all it is cracked up to be.

Mrs. Pocket's baby plays with a nutcracker as its inattentive mother is absorbed in a conversation about aristocracy and titles. It takes the little girl, Jane, to save him, but rather than being thankful, the mother is deeply affronted that anyone would tell her she is doing anything wrong in raising her children:

I was made very uneasy in my mind by Mrs. Pocket's falling into a discussion with Drummle respecting two baronetcies, while she ate a sliced orange steeped in sugar and wine, and, forgetting all about the baby on her lap, who did most appalling things with the nut-crackers. At length little Jane, perceiving its young brains to be imperilled, softly left her place, and with many small artifices coaxed the dangerous weapon away. Mrs. Pocket finishing her orange at about the same time, and not approving of this, said to Jane,—
“You naughty child, how dare you? Go and sit down this instant!”

Jane is scolded and sent off to bed for daring to try to save the baby from hurting itself; the baby soon follows, and Pip sees Jane caring for it.

Later, Mrs. Pocket is affronted when she's told the cook is lying drunk on the kitchen floor and has stolen the family's butter to sell as grease. All Mrs. Pocket cares about is that the cook flatters her. She is angry to hear bad news and doesn't want to know the truth.

This all shows that Pip has entered a dangerous world of false values and that he is far away from the solid integrity of Joe and the simple life that he, Pip, now feels he has risen above.

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Chapters 20 and 21


Chapters 24 and 25