Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2890

Pip Is Attacked by a Convict (Chapters 1–3): Philip Pirrip, or Pip, is an orphan living with his sister, “Mrs. Joe,” and brother-in-law, Joe, in the marshes of Kent. One night, Pip visits his parents’ tombstones in the village graveyard. Suddenly, a convict appears and demands that Pip bring him food and a file so he can remove the irons on his legs. Pip is terrified and obeys but is unable to return quickly. His overbearing sister orders him to stir the holiday pudding because it is Christmas Eve. When he returns to the graveyard, a different man appears and tries to strike him before running away. Pip finds the original convict, who is cold, wet, and hungry. Pip pities him and gives him the food and file he demanded. The convict becomes upset when Pip describes the man who attacked him. Pip quietly runs home while the man furiously files away at his leg irons. 

The Convict Is Captured (Chapters 4–7): Pip feels guilty for helping the convict. He panics when, in the middle of Christmas dinner, several policemen arrive with a pair of handcuffs. However, they only seek the help of Pip’s brother-in-law, who is a blacksmith, because the handcuffs are broken. While Joe works, the policemen explain that they are searching for two escaped convicts. Pip and Joe agree to join in the search, but Pip suddenly feels anxious for the convict he helped. Both convicts are eventually found fighting in the marsh. Pip’s convict does not reveal that Pip helped him; instead, he tells the policemen that he robbed Joe. The convict is arrested, and Pip, who feels even more guilty, returns home with Joe. One day, Mrs. Joe and Mr. Pumblechook, Pip’s wealthy uncle, abruptly announce that Pip will be sent to play at Satis House, the home of a wealthy unmarried woman named Miss Havisham. 

Pip Visits Satis House (Chapters 8–10): Mr. Pumblechook accompanies Pip to Satis House, where they are met by a rude but very beautiful girl named Estella. She takes Pip inside the manor, which is old and dark, to meet Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham sits at a mirror in an old wedding dress. Pip notices that everything in the room seems to have frozen in time—even the clocks are perpetually set to 20 minutes to nine. Miss Havisham coldly orders Pip to play cards with Estella, who insults his social class and unrefined manners. Pip is nonetheless infatuated with her, which seems to amuse Miss Havisham. Pip cries during his walk home, but fantasizes about the grandeur of Satis House while he tries to fall asleep. He begins to silently criticize his family, especially Joe, for being so simple and low-class, and he resolves to try harder in school in order to elevate his own social standing. One night, when he arrives at the village pub to bring Joe home, he notices a man stirring a drink with the same file that he gave to the escaped convict. The stranger gives Pip two pounds, which he later gives to Mrs. Joe. Pip’s anxiety about the convict resumes, but he does not tell Joe about what really happened. 

Pip’s Dream of Becoming a Gentleman Is Shattered (Chapters 11–13): Pip resumes his visits to Satis House, where Miss Havisham continues to encourage Estella to torment him. Pip, who grows increasingly fond of Estella, does not notice when Miss Havisham whispers “Break their hearts!” in Estella’s ear. Instead, he is convinced that Miss Havisham intends for him to marry Estella and that she will make him a gentleman by giving him a fortune of his own. His hopes are shattered when she offers to help him establish an official apprenticeship with Joe. Estella laughs at Pip when Joe, who looks very out of place, arrives at Satis House to sign the apprenticeship papers. Pip’s family is delighted about the arrangement, but Pip is deeply dissatisfied and continues to aspire to a higher social status. 

Pip Apprentices for Joe (Chapters 14–16): Pip begins working in Joe’s blacksmith shop. Pip dislikes the apprenticeship but says nothing to Joe because he does not want to hurt his feelings. Pip’s work is even more unpleasant because Joe’s forge worker, Dolge Orlick, treats him cruelly. One day, Mrs. Joe and Orlick begin arguing savagely and Mrs. Joe calls on Joe to defend her. Joe successfully fights off Orlick, who disappears. Pip, against Joe’s advice, visits Miss Havisham and is distraught to learn that Estella has been sent abroad. When he returns home, he learns that someone had attacked Mrs. Joe and that she has suffered severe brain damage. He is horrified to learn that convicts—specifically, escaped convicts with sawed-through irons on their legs—are assumed to be the attackers. Pip, however, suspects that the culprit is Orlick, whom Mrs. Joe suddenly wants to see every day. 

Pip Inherits a Mysterious Fortune (Chapters 17–19): One evening, Pip sits in the pub and listens to Mr. Wopsle—the village church clerk—read aloud about a recent murder trial. A stranger begins asking Mr. Wopsle about the legal proceedings, and Pip recognizes him as the man who was stirring a drink with the file Pip gave to the escaped convict. He introduces himself as the lawyer Mr. Jaggers. Jaggers announces that Pip has inherited a large fortune and must immediately move to London to begin his education as a gentleman. Though Pip’s benefactor wishes to remain anonymous, he gleefully suspects that Miss Havisham intends for him to become a gentleman so he can marry Estella. Pip’s loved ones are sad that he is leaving, but Pip quickly becomes arrogant and feels that they are inferior to him now. 

Pip Meets Herbert Pocket (Chapters 20–22): Pip moves to London and is astonished by the crowds, smells, and excitement of the city. Jaggers, who seems to be an influential man, introduces Pip to his contemptuous, wry clerk, Wemmick. Wemmick introduces Pip to a young man named Herbert Pocket. Herbert and Pip become friends, and Herbert agrees to help Pip become a gentleman. He also tells Pip about Miss Havisham’s history. She comes from a wealthy family, but her irresponsible half brother wasted a great deal of their fortune. She fell in love with a man of inferior social status and agreed to marry him. However, after convincing her to buy out her half brother’s share of the family brewery for an exorbitant sum, he jilted her on their wedding day. He sent a note that Miss Havisham read at 20 minutes to nine—the time at which she stopped all of her clocks. Sometime later, she adopted Estella. 

Pip Begins His Education as a Gentleman (Chapters 23–24): Pip begins studying with Matthew Pocket, who is Miss Havisham’s cousin and Herbert’s father. The Pocket household is busy and disordered, and Pip’s two other classmates, Bentley Drummle and Startop, are strange. He begins living with Herbert and learns more about Jaggers, who is a formidable presence in the courtroom. Pip also befriends Wemmick, who proves to be far more jovial at home than he is at work. Pip visits both Jaggers’s and Wemmick’s houses and finds Jaggers’s house to be dark and gloomy, whereas Wemmick’s is tiny—“I think it was the smallest house I ever saw”—but pleasant. Pip argues with Drummle, who reveals himself to be incredibly arrogant and unpleasant, over dinner at Jaggers’s house, but Jaggers mysteriously warns Pip to avoid him. 

Estella Re-Enters Pip’s Life (Chapters 27–33): Joe visits Pip in London, and Pip—who fears that Joe will disapprove of his new lifestyle and that Drummle will disapprove of Joe—treats him snobbishly. Joe tells Pip that Estella wishes to see him and Pip’s attitude softens, though not long before Joe leaves. At Satis House, he finds Estella to be enchantingly beautiful but cold and indifferent, which upsets him. Miss Havisham seems intent on Pip loving Estella, however, and encourages his infatuation. Pip realizes that Estella reminds him of someone. He sullenly returns to London, feeling guilty for once again treating his loved ones poorly. Estella sends him a note, demanding that he meet her at a train station. Estella is cruel and insulting as usual, but Pip is hopeful once again that they are intended to marry each other. 

Mrs. Joe Dies (Chapters 34–35): Pip is increasingly unhappy. He feels terribly guilty for how he treated Joe and Biddy, Mr. Wopsle’s daughter and Pip’s childhood friend, when he was in Kent to visit Estella. Furthermore, he and Herbert have accumulated large amounts of debt. One day, while Pip and Herbert catalogue their debts, news arrives that Mrs. Joe has died. Pip is devastated and returns to Kent immediately for the funeral. 

Pip Courts Estella (Chapters 36–38): Pip’s twenty-first birthday arrives, and he attempts to learn the identity of his anonymous benefactor. Jaggers, however, gruffly informs Pip that his yearly income will be 500 pounds but does not reveal his benefactor’s identity. Pip decides to use part of his fortune to anonymously pay for Herbert to enter the merchant trade. Meanwhile, Pip spends considerable time with Estella in London. Though he is convinced that Miss Havisham still intends for them to marry, he is never treated as a legitimate suitor and uneasily witnesses Estella’s poor treatment of multiple suitors. He accompanies her to visit Miss Havisham and discovers antagonism between them. Miss Havisham pressures Estella to break her suitors’ hearts, but Estella is as cold to Miss Havisham as she is to her admirers. Pip learns with horror that Drummle is courting Estella, but Estella will not listen to his concerns. 

Pip’s Mysterious Benefactor Is Revealed (Chapters 39–43): Two years pass, and Pip is twenty-three. One night, a sailor arrives at Pip’s lodgings in the middle of a storm. Pip recognizes him as the convict he helped so long ago. The convict reveals that he left England and made his fortune as a sheep farmer in Australia. He remembered Pip’s kindness and decided to use his fortune to make Pip a gentleman. Pip is horrified to realize that, because Miss Havisham is not his benefactor, he was never considered a legitimate suitor for Estella. Though devastated, he resolves to help his benefactor, whose name is Abel Magwitch, avoid arrest again. Days later, Pip learns that the convict Magwitch fought in the marsh—a man named Compeyson—is the same man who left Miss Havisham at the altar on their wedding day. Pip, who decides to stop using Magwitch’s money, gives up on his hope of marrying Estella but decides to visit her and Miss Havisham one last time. 

Estella Breaks Pip’s Heart (Chapter 44): Pip visits Satis House and learns from Miss Havisham that she intentionally let him believe that she was his benefactor. She agrees, however, to fund Herbert’s vocational training because Pip can no longer help him. Pip tells Estella that he loves her, and she cruelly insists that she did nothing to suggest that she reciprocated his feelings. Furthermore, she says that she has agreed to marry Drummle. Pip is heartbroken, and Miss Havisham surprisingly seems to pity him. He walks the entire way back to London. As he approaches his lodgings, a porter hands him a note from Wemmick that says, “Don’t go home.” 

Magwitch Is in Danger (Chapters 45–47): Pip learns from Wemmick that Compeyson is pursuing Magwitch and that Herbert is hiding Magwitch at his fiancée, Clara’s, house. Pip is surprised at the concern he feels for Magwitch. Pip and Herbert agree to help Magwitch escape and devise a plan to transport him from London on the river. Pip even considers staying with Magwitch, despite his earlier disdain for his rough manners. While awaiting preparations for their departure, Pip tries to calm his nerves by attending the theater. After the performance, he learns that Compeyson was behind him the entire time and realizes with horror that the man must be tailing him. 

Pip Discovers Part of Estella’s History (Chapter 48): Jaggers invites Pip to dinner and hands him a note from Miss Havisham, who wishes to see him. During dinner, Pip realizes with a shock that Molly, Jaggers’s solemn housekeeper, is the person Estella strangely resembles. Wemmick tells Pip that Molly was accused of murdering a woman because of a disagreement over her common-law husband; she was also accused of killing her daughter in order to hurt him. Pip is certain that Estella is her daughter. 

Miss Havisham’s Dress Catches on Fire (Chapter 49): Pip visits Satis House and Miss Havisham begs him to forgive her for goading Estella into breaking his heart. Pip responds kindly, but fantasizes about her dying while walking alone in her garden. Suddenly, he glances through her window just in time to witness her bend over the fireplace. Her ancient wedding dress goes up in flames, and Pip runs in to save her. She survives, though her injuries leave her with permanent disabilities. Pip, who is severely burned himself, stays by her side until returning to London the next morning. 

Pip Learns that Magwitch Is Estella’s Father (Chapters 50–52): Herbert tells Pip the rest of Magwitch’s life story, which includes a tragic tale of a woman he loved. Pip realizes that Magwitch’s story matches Molly’s story, and he comes to believe that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Jaggers, after significant persuasion, confirms that Molly is Estella’s mother, though he was unaware that Magwitch was Molly’s common-law husband. 

Orlick Tries to Kill Pip (Chapter 53): Pip receives an anonymous note threatening “Uncle Provis,” which is the name Pip gave to Magwitch to avoid arousing public suspicion. The note demands that Pip travel in secret to the marsh in Kent where he originally met Magwitch. Upon arriving in his homeland, Pip once again feels tremendous guilt for how he treated Joe. He walks with a candle in hand through the marsh until he reaches an abandoned stone quarry. Suddenly, his candle is extinguished, and a noose drops from above and around his neck. A voice growls from the darkness, threatening to kill him if he yells. A match is struck and Pip recognizes Orlick’s face. Orlick accuses Pip for coming “betwixt me and a young woman I liked” and reveals that he murdered Mrs. Joe to punish him. Furthermore, Orlick is connected to Compeyson and knows that Pip is hiding Magwitch. Before Orlick can murder Pip, Herbert and a group of men emerge from the mist to save him. Herbert found Orlick’s menacing note and followed Pip to protect him. Orlick escapes, and Pip returns to London with Herbert. 

Magwitch Is Arrested and Executed (Chapter 54–56): The day that Pip and Herbert will carry out their plan to save Magwitch dawns bright and dazzling. Magwitch appears tranquil, and Pip and Herbert are in good spirits. Their moods change, however, as they leave London and reach the marshes, where rowing becomes more difficult and a sense of dread sets in. They reach an inn, where they learn of a mysterious boat floating nearby. Pip notices two men inspecting their boat, so it is decided that Pip and Magwitch will set out on foot the next morning and rejoin the boat farther down the river. The next day, they glimpse the German steamer that will convey Pip and Magwitch away from England. Suddenly, another boat emerges and a policeman demands that Pip and Herbert hand over Magwitch. Magwitch notices that Compeyson is with the policeman, and he jumps into the river to attack him. Compeyson drowns during the fight, but Magwitch insists that he did not kill him. Nevertheless, Magwitch is arrested and sentenced to death. Pip, who loses his fortune in the process, comforts Magwitch on the day of his execution by telling him that Estella, his daughter, is alive and well. Magwitch dies in peace. 

Pip and Joe Reconcile Before Pip Goes Abroad (Chapters 57–58): Pip falls into a grave illness after Magwitch’s death. He is arrested for his significant debt and is only spared because of his poor health. Joe travels to London to care for him and announces that Miss Havisham has died and that Orlick is in the county jail for robbing Pumblechook. Pip eventually follows Joe back to Kent, intending to marry Biddy. Pip discovers with some disappointment that Joe and Biddy are already married. Resigned to being a bachelor, he accepts a job offer from Herbert and they go abroad to work for a mercantile firm. 

Pip Encounters Estella (Chapter 64): After eleven years abroad, Pip returns to England, content with the humble living he has made in the merchant trade. He visits Satis House, only to find that it has been demolished. He wanders through the abandoned garden, thinking of Estella, whose unhappy marriage to Drummle ended with his recent death. The moon rises and Pip suddenly recognizes Estella walking near him. Estella’s proudness is gone, and she treats Pip kindly. They reminisce about the past and hold hands as they leave the garden. Pip believes they will never part again. 

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