Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations book cover
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What happens in Great Expectations?

  • Pip lives with his abusive older sister and her kind husband Joe Gargery in the Kent marshes. One day, Pip visits the elderly Miss Havisham, a bitter old woman who teaches her adopted daughter Estella to break men's hearts. Pip quickly falls in love with Estella.
  • Pip visits Miss Havisham every other day and walks her around the banquet table. She pays for him to be a blacksmith's apprentice. He's unhappy with the work, however, and, when a lawyer reveals that Pip has inherited a fortune from an anonymous benefactor, the young man moves to London to become a gentleman.
  • In London, Pip lives beyond his means and falls deep in debt. He's surprised to learn that his mysterious benefactor isn't Miss Havisham but a convict named Magwitch, whom Pip met while visiting his parents' graves as a child. This realization incites Pip to change his ways.
  • Meanwhile, Estella marries another man. Miss Havisham dies, but not before begging Pip to forgive her for teaching Estella to be cruel. He then moves to Cairo to become a clerk. Years later, he reconnects with a kinder, widowed Estella, and the two walk hand in hand on the site of Miss Havisham's old estate.

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Great Expectations follows the young protagonist Pip, a lower-class orphan who lives with his sister and her husband in Kent. At the beginning of the novel, Pip is visiting his parents’ graves when a mysterious stranger—clearly an escaped prisoner—grabs ahold of him and makes several demands of the young boy. Following these demands, Pip steals food and a file (items the prisoner requests), but the man is caught by authorities anyway. This deed serves as the inciting incident of the novel, as it is later revealed in the text that this escaped prisoner, Magwitch, is Pip’s anonymous benefactor.

As a young boy, Pip is taken by his kindly brother-in-law, Joe, on a visit to Satis House—the abode of the eccentric spinster Miss Havisham. Pip becomes enamored with Estella, Miss Havisham's young ward. Estella is beautiful yet cruel, and Pip makes it his life’s mission to become a wealthy gentleman worthy of being her husband.

Pip visits Satis House regularly after his first encounter with Estella, only to discover that Miss Havisham wants him to become Joe’s apprentice as a blacksmith. Pip had secretly hoped that Miss Havisham would help him become an educated gentleman instead.

Pip reluctantly works under Joe, but he is unhappy there. He especially hates the violent Orlick, another worker in the forge who beats Pip’s sister so savagely that she becomes an invalid. While working in the forgery, Pip struggles to continue his self-directed education with the help of a few friends, until a lawyer named Jaggers appears and tells Pip about a large sum of money that has been gifted to him by an anonymous benefactor.

Pip mistakenly believes that Miss Havisham is his mysterious benefactress, still clinging to the dream that he will marry Estella. He travels to London to transform himself into the ideal gentleman. Once there, Pip becomes friends with Herbert Pocket, whose father, Matthew, serves as Pip’s academic tutor while Herbert shows Pip how to play the part of a gentleman. Although Pip is not granted access to his fortune until age twenty-one, he continues to run up debts about town with Herbert.

After several years, Pip is surprised to find the escaped convict from his childhood in his room in London. The convict says his name is Magwitch. Magwitch explains that he built himself a fortune in Australia so that he could one day gift Pip with a large sum of money to transform the poor boy into the gentleman Pip so longed to be—all because Pip had been kind to Magwitch in that graveyard.

Magwitch asks Pip for help, as he is now being hunted down by London police and his former criminal accomplice, Compeyson. Pip finds out that Compeyson is the man who jilted Miss Havisham, leaving her at the altar, and that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Miss Havisham only...

(The entire section is 880 words.)