Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Essential Quotes by Theme: False Expectations

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 14

It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive and well deserved; but that it is a miserable thing, I can testify.
Home had never been a very pleasant place to me, because of my sister’s temper. But Joe had sanctified it, and I believed in it. I had believed in the best parlour as a most elegant saloon; I had believed in the front door as a mysterious portal of the Temple of State, whose solemn opening was attended with a sacrifice of roast fowls; I had believed in the kitchen as a chaste though not magnificent apartment; I had believed in the forge as the flowing road to manhood and independence. Within a single year all this was changed. Now it was all coarse and common, and I would not have had Miss Havisham and Estella see it on any account.
How much of my ungracious condition of mind may have been my own fault how much Miss Havisham’s how much my sister’s, is now of no moment to me or to any one. The change was made in me; the thing was done. Well or ill done, excusably or inexcusably, it was done.


After a year of visiting Miss Havisham’s home, being exposed to the higher class life, and especially to the snobbery of Estella, Pip has come to have different expectations of what his life should be like. He feels he is born for greater things than being a poor, “common” boy. Estella’s contempt for his laboring class lifestyle had colored his vision. When Miss Havisham provides the funding for his apprenticeship to Joe in the blacksmithing trade, Pip inwardly views it with the same contempt that Estella does. As much as he loves Joe, he decides that he no longer wants to be like him. His home, subject to the moods of his tyrannical and violent sister, has always been an unpleasant place. Now, it is contemptible. Pip feels the contempt, though he is unsure whether it has its source in Miss Havisham’s influence or his sister’s. Regardless, Pip is beginning to turn his back on his home and expect better for himself, even if it means turning his back on Joe.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 34

As I had grown accustomed to my expectations, I had insensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and those around me. Their influence on my own character, I disguised from my recognition as much as possible, but I knew very well that it was not all good. I lived in a state of chronic uneasiness respecting my behaviour to Joe. My conscience was not by any means comfortable about Biddy. When I woke up in the night—like Camilla—I used to think, with a weariness on my spirits, that I should have been happier and better if I had never seen Miss Havisham’s face, and had risen to manhood content to be partners with Joe in the honest old forge. May a time of an evening, when I sat alone looking at the fire, I thought, after all there was no fire like the forge fire and the kitchen fire at home.


Pip is living the life he has long wanted—the life of a gentleman. He resides in London, with his good friend Herbert Pocket, under the tutelage of Mr. Pocket, the father of Herbert, for no particular purpose but to fit into society. However, it is not quite as enjoyable (or as cheap) as he thought. He and Herbert run into substantial debt through their high living. Estella, though living in Richmond near London, seems as unreachable as ever. Pip begins to notice that his new lifestyle has begun to affect those around him, not just Herbert. He knows that influence is negative. He knows that he has abandoned Joe and Biddy, despite their love and support for him. He begins to realize that his life would have been better and happier if he had remained at home with Joe, continuing his apprenticeship to become a blacksmith. This realization will come too late, as his sister will soon die from the injuries that she sustained in the attack.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 41

“My poor dear Handel,” Herbert repeated.
“Then,” said I, “after all, stopping short here, never taking another penny from him, think what I owe him already! Then again: I am heavenly in debt—very heavily for me, who have now no expectations—and I have been bred to no calling, and I am fit for nothing.”
“Well, well, well!” Herbert remonstrated. “Don’t say fit for nothing.”
“What am I fit for? I know only one thing that I am fit for, and that is, to go for a soldier. And I might have gone, my dear Herbert, but for the prospect of taking counsel with your friendship and affection.”


For years Pip has believed that his benefactor has been Miss Havisham and that she has been grooming him to be an acceptable suitor for Estella. However, he discovers the truth when his true benefactor arrives—Abel Magwitch, the convict he encountered when he was a small child, and the man whom he has feared for years. Overcome with the shock, Pip struggles with the next steps he should take. His life as a gentleman is over. Confessing the change in occurrences to Herbert, Pip states that he can no longer take any money from Magwitch. All his tutoring from Mr. Pocket has been to no purpose. He is not trained for anything except to live a life of leisure, which is now closed to him. Not only that, but he is forever attached to the convict. He can never pay Magwitch back, as the debt is so high (and he is already significantly in debt for his expensive lifestyle). His “great expectations” have been false all along.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Pip lives in a home that is a paradox of great love from his brother-in-love Joe and the abuse from his sister, Mrs. Joe. He is aware of the loss he has suffered in the deaths of his father and mother, along with five brothers who died young. Yet he has not thought of a better life until he is sent to Miss Havisham to provide a playmate for Estella, her adopted daughter. Though Miss Havisham’s home is nothing less than a haunted house, (haunted by the expectations she had to marry a man she loved), Pip nevertheless catches a glimpse of the better life of the higher classes in British society. Miss Havisham provides the funds for his apprenticeship as a blacksmith to his beloved Joe, yet Pip no longer wants what home represents. He wants more.

After several years, Pip is provided with an unexpected bequest from an unknown benefactor, allowing him to go to London, the capital of all that Pip hopes for, to learn to become a gentleman. Believing that it is the work of Miss Havisham to prepare him to enter society as the suitor of Estella, Pip is overjoyed at his “great expectations.”

However, this false reality leads him to excessive financial debt as he tries to live up to the expectations that he has of himself, and that he believes are his due. After a few years, Pip begins to question his expectations. He wonders whether his true self was found in his humble home and in the blacksmith shop. He begins to feel the guiltly for deserting Joe, who remains at home caring for his crippled wife. Joe has fit in with his new life and Pip has turned his back on him in shame. Now Pip begins to feel the shame reflect back on him. He begins to see that being a gentleman means more than just spending money and living in London. It involves honor and love, respect and gratitude. These have eluded Pip in London, and thus he has failed in his quest to be a true gentleman.

It is only when Pip discovers how false his expectations truly are that he begins to understand. Rather than continuing to accept the money, thus enabling to pay off his debt, Pip refuses it despite the hardship. Though not outwardly seeing the nature of a gentleman in his actions, Pip still raises his standards of his own behavior. He begins to see that true nobility derives not from birth but from the choices one makes. His choice to stand by Magwitch, despite his past fear and the threat of the death penalty that hangs over the convict should he be discovered in England, represents his rejection of his false expectations. His forgiveness of Miss Havisham shows a noble heart. In the end, Pip discovers that he has been a gentleman all along. Location and money have nothing to do with it. It is only when he goes from rags to riches and then back to rags again, does he finally comprehend his real self. He has become what he longed to be and what he was called to be—a gentleman.

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Essential Quotes by Character: Pip