Guide Compiled by Michael J. Cummings.©
is a coming-of-age novel, also known as an apprenticeship novel or Bildungsroman.
Such a novel centers on the lessons a person learns growing from youth
to adulthood. The term Bildungsroman comes from the German words
(education, formation) and roman (novel). Thus, Great Expectations
a is novel centering on the moral, psychological, and social development
of the main character, named Philip Pirrip, or Pip.
time is the first half of the nineteenth century. Capitalism was gaining
sway, but many people continued to live on inherited wealth. Sharp divisions
existed between upper and lower classes.
action begins in the county of Kent in Southeastern England. The main character's
village home is about twenty miles from the North Sea and subject to mists
that roll in from the shore. The action shifts to London, where the main
character, Pip, begins receiving an education and social guidance. The
action then alternates between London and Pip's village and its environs.
Narrator and main character in the novel. He is an orphan with a humble
background in a village in the county of Kent, England. From the perspective
of an adult, Pip tells the story of his boyhood, adolescence, teenage years,
and adulthood. The narration centers on Pip's development from a raw and
uneducated youth with false values to a mature adult with the right values.
Pip is a likable character even when he strays along the way to manhood.
Mrs. Georgiana Maria
sister, who is twenty-one years old than her brother. With the help of
her husband, Joe Gargery, she rears Pip in her home. However, because she
is a nagging, shrewish woman, she makes life unpleasant for her little
brother. Pip refers to her as Mrs. Joe.
Husband of Pip's sister. He is a big, strong blacksmith with a gentle heart.
He treats Pip well while rearing the boy as if he were his son.
Escaped convict who confronts Pip at the beginning of the novel and demands
food and a file. Later, he plays a major role in Pip's life. When he arrives
in London, Magwitch goes by the name of Provis.
Wealthy and eccentric spinster who lives a reclusive life after her husband-to-be
defrauds her and abandons her on the day he is to marry her. To gain revenge
against men in general, she rears her beautiful adopted daughter, Estella,
to tantalize males but not to commit to any of them.
swindler who pretends to love Miss Havisham in order to get at her money.
Half-brother of Miss Havisham. He conspires with Compeyson to swindle Miss
daughter of Miss Havisham. Though she is proud and cold, Pip falls in love
Jaggers: Miss Havisham's
solicitor. He handles her legal and business matters. Jaggers becomes Pip's
guardian after a benefactor begins supporting the youth after he travels
Bill collector for Mr. Jaggers. He becomes a good friend of Pip and helps
him and advises him on how to escape London with Magwitch.
The Aged: John Wemmick's
Wemmick's fiancée and later his wife.
Joe Gargery's uncle. He arranges for Pip to play with Estella at Miss Havisham's
Matthew Pocket: Cousin
of Miss Havisham. He becomes Pip's tutor when the youth resides in London.
Matthew Pocket's wife.
Pocket: Young man who resides with Pip in London and becomes his best
friend. He is Matthew Pocket's son.
Mean-tempered journeyman blacksmith in Joe Gargery's shop. He hates Pip
and later has a confrontation with him in which he threatens to shoot him
with a gun.
Startop: Pupil of
Matthew Pocket who becomes a friend of Pip.
Molly: Servant of
Jaggers. She and Magwitch had a long affair, and Molly bore his child,
Herbert Pocket's fiancée and later his wife. Her home is one of
Magwitch's hiding places.
Old Bill Barley:
Clara Barley's father. She takes care of him until he dies, then marries
Proprietor of the house where Clara Barley lives.
Clerk at the village church and friend of the Gargerys.
Wheelwright and friend of the Gargerys.
Mr. Hubble's wife.
leading soldiers in pursuit of Magwitch and another escaped convict on
Christmas Day when Pip is a child.
Herbert Pocket's sister and a cousin of Miss Havisham. She is one of several
relatives of Miss Havisham who pretend to be concerned about her so that
she will remember them in her will.
Mrs. Camilla's husband.
Sarah Pocket: Relative
of Miss Havisham. Her feelings toward Miss Havisham are the same as Mrs.
greedy relative of Miss Havisham.
Pepper (the Avenger):
Boy Pip hires for chores at Barnard's Inn.
merchant. Pip secretly uses his money to get Herbert Pocket a position
Trabb: Village tailor
who outfits Pip's with suitable attire before he goes to London.
Son of Trabb.
Woman with whom Estella resides while in London.
Fawning neighbor of Matthew and Belinda Pocket.
Woman who attends Estella while she is residing with Mrs. Brandley.
Watchman: Man who
keeps watch at the Temple, one of Pip's lodging places in London.
who takes Pip to Jaggers' office.
Clerk: Employee in
Jaggers' office who greets Pip when the latter arrives to confer with the
Clients of Jaggers
narrates the story in first-person point of view from the perspective of
a mature adult looking back on his childhood and the mistakes he made growing
Michael J. Cummings.©
he was a small child, Philip Pirrip was unable to pronounce his full name,
so he called himself Pip. Everyone else did too. He never saw his father,
Philip, or his mother, Georgianna; both were already in their graves when
he was still a baby.
Pip is now six. Five of his brothers—Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias,
and Roger—also lie at rest. However, his sister—who is twenty-one years
older than Pip—is alive and well and married to a blacksmith named Joe
Gargery. She and Joe are rearing Pip at their home in a village in Kent,
about twenty miles from the sea. The churchyard where Pip's parents and
siblings are buried is about a mile from the Gargery home. Because Mrs.
Gargery (whom Pip calls Mrs. Joe) is a whining nag who makes life wretched
for both Joe and Pip, they become partners in misery.
Toward evening one Christmas Eve, an escaped convict in prison gray confronts
Pip while the boy is looking at the tombstones in the cemetery. The convict
tells Pip to fetch him food and a file to cut through his shackles. If
Pip does not do as he bids, the convict says, “Your heart and your liver
shall be tore out, roasted, and ate" (Chapter 1).
On Christmas morning, Pip secretly provides him a pork pie, cheese, mincemeat,
bread, some brandy, and the file. While the Gargerys are at dinner in the
afternoon with their guests—Mr. Wopsle, the church clerk; Mr. Hubble, the
wheelwright; Hubble's wife; and Joe's Uncle Pumblechook, a corn chandler
in a nearby town—Mrs. Gargery reminds everyone of what she has endured
to rear Pip. The adult Pip, in narrating the tale, says,
At about two-thirty, soldiers enter the property, and a sergeant announces
to the diners that he is searching for two escaped convicts. When the soldiers
venture forth to find their quarry, Joe, Mr. Wopsle, and Pip follow them.
Several villagers tag along. The pursuers pass the churchyard and enter
the marshes beyond. There, they find both men in the bottom of a ditch.
The younger convict accuses the older convict (the one whom Pip had encountered)
of trying to kill him. But Pip's convict tells them he was holding the
other convict for the soldiers. To support his story, he shows them the
remnant of his shackles, saying he could have fled if he so desired. He
tells the soldiers that he stole food and brandy from a nearby home, but
at no time does he give Pip away. Pip is relieved, for he will not have
to explain the missing pork pie and other items. The soldiers take the
escapees into custody, and Pip and the others return home.
[She] then entered
on a fearful catalogue of all the illnesses I had been guilty of, and all
the acts of sleeplessness I had committed, and all the high places I had
tumbled from, and all the low places I had tumbled into, and all the injuries
I had done myself, and all the times she had wished me in my grave, and
I had contumaciously refused to go there. (Chapter 4)
One day, Pumblechook visits a woman named Miss Havisham to pay his rent.
She is a spinster who inherited most of the fortune of her father, a wealthy
brewer. Miss Havisham asks Pumblechook whether he knows of a boy who could
come to play with her adopted daughter, Estella. Pumblechook recommends
Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Joe orders Pip to go to the Havisham residence,
a run-down mansion called Satis House. Miss Havisham, a mysterious eccentric,
always wears a wedding dress, a relic from the day twenty-five years before
that her fiancé abandoned her on their wedding day. Time for her
stopped on that day. In fact, she left everything in her house just as
it was on that day—even the wedding cake, which is still sitting on a table.
Later, her lawyer, Mr. Jaggers, assisted her in the adoption of her daughter.
When Pip first stands before Miss Havisham, he notices that her watch and
the clock in her room are both stopped at twenty minutes to nine—the time
when her husband-to-be abandoned her.
To gain revenge against the opposite sex, Miss Havisham has trained Estella
to treat males disdainfully. Pip becomes the brunt of this disdain during
his visits. Nevertheless, Pip falls in love with the beautiful girl, who
is bedecked in fine clothes and jewelry. Pip dreams of becoming a well-to-do
gentleman worthy of marrying her.
On his second visit, Pip waits in an outer room while four relatives of
Miss Havisham—Sarah Pocket, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Camilla, and a woman identified
as Georgiana—conclude a visit. The occasion is Miss Havisham's birthday.
Once a year, these relatives visit Miss Havisham—always on her birthday—to
kowtow to her in order to enhance their chances of receiving a bequest
in her will. Miss Havisham, well aware of their motivations, treats them
coldly and answers their questions curtly. However, one relative—Matthew
Pocket—stays away. He is concerned about Miss Havisham's welfare but does
not wish to become a hypocrite.
Later, on the grounds of the estate, Pip encounters a boy who asks Pip
who gave him permission to be on the grounds. Pip says Estella did. Then
the boy says, “Come and fight" (Chapter 11). The boy pulls Pip's hair and
head-butts him in the stomach. Pip then thrashes the boy, knocking him
down several times. Bruised and dazed, the boy surrenders.
Pip makes repeated visits to Miss Havisham's, sometimes pushing her around
in a wheelchair. But after eight months, his visits end when Miss Havisham
asks Joe to apprentice Pip in the blacksmith shop. Pip is deeply disappointed.
He had thought his visits to Miss Havisham's were preparations for him
to become a gentleman. After Miss Havisham pays Joe for allowing the boy
to visit her home, Pip starts work in the shop. Joe is an honest and upright
man who is as strong as an ox but kind and gentle in his dealings with
Meanwhile, Pip has been attending a school operated by Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt—who
teaches him next to nothing. Pip learns more from Biddy, Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt's
granddaughter. She is about Pip's age and, like Pip, an orphan. Pip passes
on what he learns to Joe, who has no education.
There is a sinister presence at Gargery's forge, a journeyman blacksmith
named Orlick, about twenty-five. He is a very strong man who lives in the
marshes at the sluice keeper's place. Orlick is, as Pip puts it, always
“slouching" (Chapter 15)—slouching into work, slouching out at quitting
time, and slouching on Sundays against a barn, a stack of hay or straw,
or on the nearby sluice gates. He does not like Pip. When Pip first started
at the shop as a young boy, Orlick would tell him frightening stories about
the devil. Now, he apparently thinks Joe hired Pip to replace him eventually
and thus likes him even less.
One day, Joe grants Pip a half-day off. When Orlick says he should also
get a half-day off, Joe assents. Mrs. Joe, who is listening outside the
house, pokes her head through a window and scolds Joe for granting Orlick's
wish. She calls Orlick “the worst rogue between this and France" (Chapter
15). Orlick then calls her a “foul shrew" (Chapter 15). They exchange more
insults, and Mrs. Gargery berates Joe for not defending her. Joe then stands
up to Orlick. They fight, and Orlick ends up in coal dust on the floor
with a slit in a nostril.
Later, peace prevails, with Joe and Orlick sharing beer while going about
In the evening, after Joe arrives home from the Three Jolly Bargemen (a
tavern) at around ten o'clock, he finds his wife unconscious on the floor
with injuries inflicted to the head and spine by a blunt instrument. Next
to her is a convict's leg iron, apparently the weapon that the assailant
had used. The purpose of the attack and the name of the attacker remain
a mystery in the ensuing days, although Pip suspects Orlick as the assailant.
Mrs. Joe recovers, but her injuries have seriously impaired her memory
and her ability to speak and hear. The Gargerys take on Biddy to help out
around the house.
After several years pass, a London lawyer named Jaggers—the same Jaggers
who is Miss Havisham's attorney—visits Pip and Joe to announce that Pip
has “great expectations" (Chapter 18). Pip is to receive what Jaggers calls
“a handsome property" (Chapter 18) from a benefactor whose name is to remain
“a profound secret" (Chapter 18) until the benefactor chooses to reveal
it in person to Pip. Pip is to get an education in London and money to
sustain himself. Pip thinks the benefactor is Miss Havisham and that she
intends for him to marry Estella. But Jaggers warns him to keep to himself
all speculation about the source of his boon. Jaggers offers Joe compensation
for the loss of Pip's services, but Joe refuses it. His concern is for
Pip's future, not for himself. Pumblechook tries to take credit for the
happy turn of events.
After Pip arrives in London, he begins his education under the tutelage
of Matthew Pocket (an aforementioned relative of Miss Havisham). Mr. Jaggers's
law clerk, John Wemmick, escorts Pip to his new quarters at Barnard's Inn.
There he takes up residence with Pocket's son, Herbert, an assistant in
a countinghouse (office or building in which a company maintains financial
records). It turns out that he was the boy Pip fought in Miss Havisham's
yard. They become close friends while Herbert helps teach Pip the ways
of a gentleman. Pip still longs to marry Estella. When he is discussing
her with Herbert, the latter informs him that Miss Havisham has taught
her to entice men into falling in love with her, then to reject them cruelly.
When Pip returns home one day to visit Satis House at Miss Havisham's request,
he is surprised to see that it is Orlick who opens the gate for him. He
had been hired as a porter by Miss Havisham. He exchanges words with Orlick,
then goes up to Miss Havisham's room. He sees a stunningly beautiful young
woman with Miss Havisham, and it takes him a moment to realize it is Estella.
She is as proud as she is beautiful and, says Pip, “she treated me as a
boy still" (Chapter 29). Nevertheless, Pip worships “the very hem of her
dress" (Chapter 29). She had just returned from France and would soon be
embarking for London. Pip had always thought of himself as crude and common
in regard to his humble upbringing. But he hopes his education and money
will make him worthy of Estella. She understands his aspirations and says
to him while they are walking in the garden, “What was fit company for
you once, would be quite unfit company for you now" (Chapter 29).
Pip had considered visiting Joe before returning to London, but Estella's
remark makes him abandon all thoughts of doing so.
Although Pip has been ignoring the Gargerys and Biddy, he does visit Joe
a short time later. The occasion is the funeral for the woman who made
his life miserable in his youth—his sister, Mrs. Gargery.
Meanwhile, Pip has informed Jaggers that Orlick is an unsavory character
who should not be in a position of trust at Miss Havisham's. A short time
later, Orlick is fired.
As time passes and Pip pursues his education in London, he and Herbert
live well and spend freely. Debts build. Pip continues to think of Estella.
While in London, she resides with Mrs. Brandley, a widow, who has a daughter
older than Estella. Mrs. Brandley had been a friend of Miss Havisham before
the latter became a reclusive eccentric. Whenever Pip sees Estella, she
toys with him, makes light of his feelings for her, and uses him to tease
other men interested in her—and there are many of them. Pips says of their
Pip is twenty-two, he and Herbert move to the garden court of the Temple,
a building complex named for the Knights Templar. One evening, when Herbert
is in Marseilles on business, Pip receives a surprise visitor at his residence—the
convict he helped years before. His name is Abel Magwitch, but says he
prefers to be called Provis. He reveals that he is Pip's benefactor. After
Pip gave him food and a file on that Christmas Day long ago, he vowed to
help the boy. While in New South Wales, Australia, he accumulated considerable
wealth as a sheepherder and began repaying Pip with money to sustain him
I saw her often
at Richmond, I heard of her often in town, and I used often to take her
and the Brandleys on the water; there were picnics, fete days, plays, operas,
concerts, parties, all sorts of pleasures, through which I pursued her,—and
they were all miseries to me. I never had one hour's happiness in her society,
and yet my mind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the
happiness of having her with me unto death. (Chapter 38)
"Yes, Pip, dear boy," Magwitch says, "I've made a gentleman on you! It's
me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea,
that guinea should go to you. I swore arterwards,
sure as ever I spec'lated and got rich, you should get rich. I lived rough,
that you should live smooth; I worked hard, that you
should be above work" (Chapter 39).
The news shocks Pip, who recalls, "The abhorrence in which I held the man,
the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which
I shrank from him, could not have been exceeded if he had been some terrible
beast" (Chapter 39).
Now Magwitch needs Pip's help. Under penalty of death, he was never to
return to England and now is on the run from police. After Herbert returns
from Marseilles, Magwitch tells him and Pip that he is also being tracked
by a former criminal associate named Compeyson, who recruited Magwitch
long ago to assist him in a life of crime. Magwitch tells the young men
There was a third man who threw in with Compeyson, Magwitch says. His name
was Arthur. He helped Compeyson bilk a wealthy woman of her money. Arthur,
who was in poor health, became gravely ill and hallucinated about the woman
and later died. Herbert, whose father (Matthew Pocket)
is Miss Havisham's cousin, knows who Arthur was: Miss Havisham's half-brother.
He also knows that Compeyson was the man who, with the help of Arthur,
wooed and abandoned Miss Havisham after defrauding her of money.
was the swindling, handwriting forging, stolen bank-note
passing, and such-like. All sorts of traps as Compeyson
could set with his head, and keep his own legs out of and get the profits
from and let another man in for, was Compeyson's business. He'd
no more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the
head of the Devil afore mentioned. (Chapter 42)
When the law catches up with Magwitch and Compeyson, Magwitch—who has a
record—gets a stiff sentence of fourteen years in prison. Compeyson, who
is educated and smooth-talking, gets only seven years. Magwitch and Compeyson
became deadly enemies after Magwitch realized how truly evil Compeyson
While Magwitch hides out in accommodations provided by Pip, Pip learns
from Estella on a visit to Satis House that she plans to marry Bentley
Drummle, who comes from a wealthy family in Somersetshire. Pip describes
him as a “sulky fellow" who is “heavy in figure, movement, and comprehension"
and is “idle, proud, niggardly, reserved, and suspicious" (Chapter 29).
When Pip returns to London, Wemmick warns him that Magwitch's trackers—including
Compeyson—are closing in. Herbert Pocket, aware of the situation, has relocated
Magwitch to the home of his fiancée, Clara, who rents her dwelling
from a kindly woman named Mrs. Whimple. By this time, Pip has begun fiercely
protecting the downtrodden Magwitch and plans to help him escape from London.
Meanwhile, Estella marries Drummle.
Pip next visits Satis House, Miss Havisham apologizes for scheming against
him with Estella, saying, “"What have I done! What have I done!" (Chapter
49). She is deeply regretful of her wrongdoing. Pip comforts her. After
leaving the house, Pip decides to return to check on the distraught woman.
As he enters the room, Pip says as he looks back to his past,
She had drawn too close to the
fire, and her wedding dress went up in flames. Pip throws his cloak over
her to smother the flames and suffers burns to his hands and left arm.
Later, a surgeon attends to Miss Havisham. She is delirious and keeps repeating,
“What have I done!" (Chapter 49). When her servants inform Pip that Estella
is in Paris, he arranges for the surgeon to write to her.
I saw her seated
in the ragged chair upon the hearth close to the fire, with her back towards
me. In the moment when I was withdrawing my head to go quietly away, I
saw a great flaming light spring up. In the same moment I saw her running
at me, shrieking, with a whirl of fire blazing all about her, and soaring
at least as many feet above her head as she was high. (Chapter 49)
After Pip returns to London, Herbert Pocket tends to Pip's burns while
bringing him up to date on the situation with Magwitch, who will soon be
making his escape attempt. Herbert says Magwitch revealed details about
his past, one of which was that a woman bore him a child, a girl, when
she was with Magwitch over a five-year period. This same woman had been
accused of murder. Jaggers defended her in a trial in which Magwitch was
not present. He feared that his testimony would jeopardize her chances
of acquittal—perhaps because it might in some way cast her in a bad light.
She was, in fact, acquitted. After the trial she disappeared with the child.
Pip later learns that the woman, Molly, was in the employ of Jaggers. Because
she did not want the baby girl, Jaggers chose her as Miss Havisham's adoptee.
The girl was, of course, Estella.
As Pip's burns heal, he and Herbert prepare for Magwitch's escape—by sea
to the European continent They will take him down the Thames in a boat,
then wait for a steamer bound for Hamburg, Germany.
Meanwhile, Pip receives a letter to go to the sluice house in the marshes
beyond the Gargery home. The letter says, "If you want information regarding
[Magwitch], you had much better come and tell no one, and lose no time.
You must come alone" (Chapter 52).
When he arrives at the sluice house and enters, the room is dark, save
for a lighted candle. Suddenly, someone throws a noose around his neck
and the candle goes out. The man is strong and Pip cannot break loose;
he is handicapped by his burn injuries. After tying Pip to a wall, the
man strikes flint against steel to light the candle. Pip then sees his
assailant, Orlick, who has been drinking. He displays a gun and says he's
going to kill Pip for speaking against him. He plans to burn his body.
was always in Old Orlick's way since ever you was a child," Orlick says
(Chapter 53). "You goes out of his way this present night. He'll have no
more on you. You're dead."
Orlick admits that he killed Mrs. Joe because of her treatment of him.
When all seems lost, Pip shouts out as loudly as he can. He then hears
others answer his call for help. They rush in and tussle with Orlick, but
he escapes. Pip's rescuers are Trabb's boy (Pip's identification for the
son of the local tailor), Startop (a friend of Pip and Herbert), and Herbert.
Herbert had picked up the letter that Pip left behind and suspected it
could spell trouble for Pip. He enlisted the help of Startop and picked
up Trabb's boy after nearing the sluice house.
Upon returning to London, Pip, Herbert, and Startop take Magwitch down
the Thames as planned. However, Compeyson—who has been continuing to track
Pip and Magwitch—has alerted the police. With Compeyson, they pull up in
a boat alongside their quarry. The steamer then rams Pip's boat. Magwitch
and Compeyson end up in the river. They fight, and Compeyson drowns. The
police round up Pip, Magwitch, and the others.
Magwitch receives a death sentence. He accepts it as just punishment for
his past wrongdoing. While in jail, he becomes ill and dies—but not before
Pip informs him that his daughter, Estella, is alive and well.
Pip, who had always managed his money poorly while enjoying the good life
with Herbert, is subject to arrest for bad debts. He too becomes ill, but
Joe Gargery comes to his aid. He not only nurses him back to health but
also pays off his debts. Elsewhere, Miss Havisham dies and leaves most
of her estate to Estella. Matthew Pocket receives a considerable sum: four
thousand pounds. Her kowtowing relatives receive meager bequests of from
five to twenty-five pounds each. Orlick, meanwhile, ends up in the county
jail after breaking into Pumblechook's house, stealing his money, and tying
him to a bedpost.
Pip later returns home, thinking Biddy would make a good wife for him.
But Biddy marries Joe. Pip asks them to forgive him for all the trouble
he has caused them over the years, and they heartily give him their blessing.
Pip then takes employment abroad with Herbert. (Earlier, Pip had secretly
used his resources to get Herbert a position with Clarikker, a merchant.
Pip now joins the firm.) Pip thrives financially while living an upstanding,
Years pass. Pip returns to England to visit Joe and Biddy, who now have
a little boy. Toward evening he goes over to Satis House to muse about
old times. There, to his surprise, he encounters Estella. Her husband,
who had maltreated her, has died. She says she has thought often of Pip
and says, “suffering has been stronger than all other
teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I
have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape.
Be as considerate and good to me as you were, and tell me we are friends"
"We are friends," Pip says (Chapter 59).
They walk off, hand in hand. Pip says, “I saw no shadow of another parting
from her" (Chapter 59).
Discovering the True Values
he is growing up, Pip looks down on his humble origins and sets his sights
on becoming a materially successful gentleman in the world of the social
elite. There is nothing wrong with money or life among the privileged.
But Pip thinks they are what will make him a man. He spends lavishly at
times and dislikes acknowledging his roots or visiting home. But he learns
the hard way that what really matters in life is loyalty, common decency,
moral fiber, courage, and genuine love. A man can be a blacksmith, like
Joe, and still be a superior human being.
and Estella also reject the false values that guided them earlier in life.
motivates Miss Havisham, Compeyson, and Orlick. After being abandoned by
her husband-to-be on the day of her wedding, Miss Havisham seeks revenge
against men in general. Compeyson seeks revenge against Magwitch, who turned
against Compeyson. Orlick beat Mrs. Gargery for criticizing him and plots
to kill Pip. He never liked Pip. His hatred for him deepened after Pip's
report on him to Jaggers caused him to lose his job as a porter at Miss
Prevailing Against Adversity
deals bad hands to Pip, Magwitch, Estella, and Biddy. Pip, Magwitch, and
Biddy grew up without the guidance of biological parents. Estella was abandoned
by her mother—Jaggers' servant, Molly—and never met her father, Magwitch.
Of Biddy, Pip says, "She was an orphan like myself; like me, too, had been
brought up by hand" (Chapter 7).
All four thus are handicapped
from the beginning. But all four rebound from their reversals and misfortunes
and eventually succeed in their own way. Magwitch, a hardened criminal,
makes a fortune in business and becomes a loving and generous benefactor
to Pip. After becoming a young man with great expectations, Pip disdains
his humble origins and ignores Joe and Biddy. But he eventually discovers
that money and social standing are far less important than love, loyalty,
and kindness. Estella was reared to make men miserable. But she suffers
at the hands of a man, Bentley Drummle, and learns that her purpose in
life is to love. After Drummle dies, she and Pip reunite for what appears
to be a promising future.
Havisham, Magwitch, Pip, and Estella redeem themselves from their past
wrongdoing or wrongful attitudes.
True Nobility in a Class-Divided
England of the nineteenth century, class divisions were sharp. The upper
classes generally looked upon the lower classes as vulgar and unworthy
of their attention. In fact, Pip uses the phrase "coarse and common" six
times in the novel to bemoan the social status of himself and others in
his stratum. In Great Expectations, two characters above all others—Joe
Gargery and Abel Magwitch—prove that true nobility lies in the heart, not
in money or social standing. Pip adopts their attitude after realizing
that he was chasing false values.
Gargery remains loyal to Pip throughout the novel even though Pip ignores
him for a time. Magwitch also remains loyal to Pip even though Pip is at
first repelled by the presence of Magwitch after the latter arrives in
London. The example that Joe and Magwitch set helps Pip to overcome his
disloyalty and other shortcomings.
stalks the novel in the forms of the mean-spirited, spiteful, and vengeful
Compeyson and Orlick. Like modern sociopaths, they show no signs of reforming.
looms over the whole of the plot in that it was he who led Magwitch deep
into a life of crime and he who defrauded Miss Havisham and abandoned her,
causing her to despise men. She, in turn, ensnared Estella in a scheme
to gain revenge against men in general.
is a monstrous malefactor who murders Mrs.Gargery even though he had no
greater motive than a heated argument. He would have murdered Pip if Herbert,
Startop, and Trabb's boy had not happened on the scene in the nick of time.
drowns in a fight with Magwitch, and Orlick ends up in jail after burglarizing
main conflicts generally center on (1) Pip and the people who scheme against
him, including as Miss Havisham, Estella, and Orlick; (2) Pip and the guilt
he sometimes feels about ignoring Joe in favor of pursuing his own misguided
goals; (3) Magwitch and Compeyson; and (4) Miss Havisham and the male world.
tone is generally serious, but touches of humor punctuate the action. Following
are examples of Dickens' humor.
"Where will you
put me?" [Magwitch] asked, presently. "I must be put somewheres, dear boy."
"To sleep?" said I. (Chapter
At last, the old woman and
the niece came in,—the latter with a head not easily distinguishable from
her dusty broom,—and testified surprise at sight of me and the fire. (Chapter
climax occurs when Magwitch announces that he is Pip's benefactor. This
revelation jolts Pip out of his unrealistic dreams for himself and sets
him to thinking about what really matters in life. The adult Pip, in recalling
the moment, says,
intentions towards me, all a mere dream; Estella not designed for me; I
only suffered in Satis House as a convenience, a sting for the greedy relations,
a model with a mechanical heart to practise on when no other practise was
at hand; those were the first smarts I had. But, sharpest and deepest pain
of all,—it was for the convict, guilty of I knew not what crimes, and liable
to be taken out of those rooms where I sat thinking, and hanged at the
Old Bailey door, that I had deserted Joe. (Chapter 39)But while remorseful for abandoning
Joe for a lowly convict, Pip also begins to sympathize with the downtrodden
Magwitch and takes dangerous risks to hide Magwitch and eventually to help
uses anaphora frequently to provide emphasis, balance, and rhythm in his
wording. Anaphora is the repetition of a word, phrase, or clause at the
beginning of word groups occurring one after the other. In Great Expectations,
the first instance of anaphora occurs in the sixth paragraph of Chapter
1, when Pip describes Magwitch with subordinate clauses.
fearful man, all in coarse grey, with
a great iron on his leg. A man
no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head.
who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones,
and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars. (Chapter 1)Here are other examples of anaphora.
she would coldly tolerate me; sometimes,
she would condescend to me; sometimes,
she would be quite familiar with me; sometimes,
she would tell me energetically that she hated me. (Chapter
Figures of Speech
should a man scrape himself to that extent, before he could
consider himself full dressed? Why should
he suppose it necessary to be purified by suffering for his holiday clothes?
had never been a very pleasant place to me, because of my sister's temper.
But, Joe had sanctified it, and I had believed
in it. I had believed in
the best parlor 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;
had believed in the kitchen as a chaste though not magnificent
apartment; I had believed in the forge
as the glowing road to manhood and independence. (Chapter 14)
up with these reflections came the reflection that
I had seen him with my childish eyes to be a desperately violent
man; that I had heard that other convict
reiterate that he had tried to murder him; that
I had seen him down in the ditch tearing and fighting like a
wild beast. (Chapter 39)
I opened the shutters and looked out at the wet wild morning,
all of a leaden hue; when I walked
from room to room; when I sat down
again shivering, before the fire, waiting for my laundress to appear; I
thought how miserable I was. (Chapter 40)
saw in this, wretched though it made me, and bitter the sense
of dependence and even of degradation that it awakened—I
saw in this, that Estella was set to wreak Miss Havisham's revenge
on men, and that she was not to be given to me until she had gratified
it for a term. I saw in this, a reason
for her being beforehand assigned to me. Sending her out to attract and
torment and do mischief, Miss Havisham sent her with the malicious assurance
that she was beyond the reach of all admirers, and that all who staked
upon that cast were secured to lose. I saw in
this, that I, too, was tormented by a perversion of ingenuity,
even while the prize was reserved for me. I saw
in this, the reason for my being staved off so long, and the
reason for my late guardian's declining to commit himself to the formal
knowledge of such a scheme. In a word, I saw in
this, Miss Havisham as I had her then and there before my eyes,
and always had had her before my eyes; and I saw
in this, the distinct shadow of the darkened and unhealthy house
in which her life was hidden from the sun. (Chapter 38)
In all his ways of
sitting and standing, and eating and drinking—of
brooding about, in a high-shouldered reluctant style—of
taking out his great horn-handled jack-knife and wiping it on his legs
and cutting his food—of lifting light
glasses and cups to his lips, as if they were clumsy pannikins—of
chopping a wedge off his bread, and soaking up with it the last fragments
of gravy round and round his plate, as if to make the most of an allowance,
and then drying his finger-ends on it, and then swallowing it—in these
ways and a thousand other small nameless instances arising every minute
in the day, there was Prisoner, Felon, Bondsman, plain as plain could be.
What a doleful night! How
anxious, how dismal, how
long! (Chapter 45)
It matters not what
stranded ships repairing in dry docks I lost myself among, what
old hulls of ships in course of being knocked to pieces, what
ooze and slime and other dregs of tide, what
yards of ship-builders and ship-breakers, what
rusty anchors blindly biting into the ground though for years off duty,
mountainous country of accumulated casks and timber. (Chapter 46)
looked at those hands, I looked at
those eyes, I looked at that flowing
hair; and I compared them with other
hands, other eyes, other
hair. (Chapter 48)
dint of doubling
at the joints like a Dutch doll,
then got it safely into Mrs Pocket's
you see, as far as it goes, a pair
of pigeons are portable
all the same." (Chapter 32)
of fears for
the rash man who was in hiding.
There, we found,
sitting by a fire, a very old man in
a flannel coat:
and well cared for,
but intensely deaf. (Chapter 25)
As to forming any
plan for the future, I could as soon have formed an elephant. (Chapter
occurs frequently in the novel. Here are examples.
rears Estella to torment men. But it is a man, Bentley Drummle, who ends
up tormenting Estella in their bad marriage.
Pocket, the boy who fights with Pip in Miss Havisham's yard, becomes Pip's
leads the life of a gentleman in London, it is a convict who is paying
"great expectations"—becoming a man of wealth
and position—are not at all great. They blind
him to what really matters in life.
The day came creeping
on, halting and whimpering and shivering, and wrapped in patches of clouds
and rags of mist . . . . (Chapter 43)
Comparison of the day
to a traveler dressed in rags
[The bedroom] was a sort
of vault on the ground floor at the back, with a despotic monster of a
four-post bedstead in it, straddling over the whole place, putting one
of his arbitrary legs into the fire-place and another into the doorway,
and squeezing the wretched little washing-stand in quite a Divinely Righteous
manner. (Chapter 45)
Comparison of the bed
to a tyrannical monster
At the best of times,
so much of this elixir (tar water) was administered to me as a choice restorative,
that I was conscious of going about, smelling like a new fence. (Chapter
Comparison of the way
Pip smells to smell of a new fence
I couldn't warm my feet,
to which the damp cold seemed riveted, as the iron was riveted to the leg
of the man I was running to meet. (Chapter 3)
Comparison of the way the
cold attached itself to Pip's feet to the way the shackles were riveted
to Magwitch's legs.
In his working clothes, Joe
was a well-knit characteristic-looking blacksmith; in his holiday clothes,
he was more like a scarecrow in good circumstances. (Chapter 4)
Comparison of Joe to
"I have brought you, Mum,
a bottle of sherry wine—and I have brought you, Mum, a bottle of port wine."
Every Christmas Day he presented himself, as a profound novelty, with exactly
the same words, and carrying the two bottles like dumb-bells. (Chapter
Comparison of the bottles
With that, she (Mrs. Gargery)
pounced upon me, like an eagle on a lamb, and my face was squeezed into
wooden bowls in sinks, and my head was put under taps of water-butts, and
I was soaped, and kneaded, and towelled, and thumped, and harrowed, and
rasped, until I really was quite beside myself. (Chapter 7)
Comparison of Mrs. Gargery
to an eagle and Pip to a lamb
We walked to town, my sister
leading the way in a very large beaver bonnet, and carrying a basket like
the Great Seal of England in plaited straw. (Chapter 13)
Comparison of the basket
to the Great Seal
It was an unhappy life that
I lived; and its one dominant anxiety, towering over all its other anxieties,
like a high mountain above a range of mountains, never disappeared from
my view. (Chapter 47)
Comparison of an anxiety
to a high mountain
When we came to the river-side
and sat down on the bank, with the water rippling at our feet, making it
all more quiet than it would have been without that sound, I resolved that
it was a good time and place for the admission of Biddy into my inner confidence.
The sky was just
a row of long angry red lines. (Chapter 1)
The sky takes on a human
A fire had been lately kindled
in the damp old-fashioned grate, and it was more disposed to go out than
to burn up, and the reluctant smoke which hung in the room
seemed colder than the clearer
air. (Chapter 11)
The fire has an inclination;
the smoke exhibits reluctance.
Sleep refused to come near
me. (Chapter 38)
Study Questions and Essay
is the most admirable character in the novel? Who is the least admirable?
Explain your answers.
Magwitch, and Biddy are orphans. In the England of Dickens's day, what
provisions did society make for the care of orphans?
what extent did Dickens base the story of Pip on his own life?
an essay, write a psychological profile of Miss Havisham. To support your
thesis, use passages from the novel, as well as Internet and library research.
influential is the environment on the behavior of the characters?
an essay that compares and contrasts the ambitious characters (for example,
Pip, Herbert, and Wemmick) with the characters who lack ambitions (for
example, Miss Havisham, Estella, and Sarah Pocket).
effect does earning money (vis-a-vis inheriting it or stealing it) have
on the characters?