Great Expectations


Table Of Contents

Characters Form and Structure Summaries and Commentaries A Brief Summary Of The Novel The Plot Setting Point Of View


PIP(Philip Pirrip)

The narrator and chief character at the novel has been an orphan since infancy his driving ambitions is better station in life; unfortunately, PIP rejects his clusters friends, in order to achieve his social goals and it is only after much heartbreak and disappointment that he realizes that good friends are far more valuable wealth.

An understanding of Pip is essential to an understanding of Great Expectations. He is, at the same time, the central character (the changes in whom are the central subject of the book) and the narrator, through whose eyes we view the actions and events of the tale. His position as both central character and narrator is a curious one. It brings us into close contact with him immediately and from more than one angle. We have, simultaneously, the adventures, thoughts, and feelings of the boy and young man and the more mature reflections of the Pip who is actually relating the story. This union of the two voices in one enables us to enter into the complexities of Pip's character from the very opening lines. These lines give us the information that he is an orphan and, as such, is a character living outside the normal lines of home and family. We are soon introduced to the two chief influences on the child: Joe Gargery and his wife, Pip's sister. The examples they set for young Pip take strong hold in his character as is seen clearly later in the book. Joe gives him a sense of honesty, industry, and friendliness, along with generosity and dignity. Mrs.Joe, with her concern for property and pomp, contributes more than is ever mentioned to his desires and ambitions. Pip's general personality as a child is clear. He is depicted as good-natured, intelligent, and extremely imaginative and thoughtful. With the entrance into his life of outside influences (at his first visit to Miss Havisham's) he becomes discontented, ashamed of what he is, and ambitious to change. The effect of these feelings is immediate in his view of those around him. The false values, which he is pressed into accepting by his desire for Estella and his shame of being common, begin to eat away at his regard for Joe. These ideas fester within him until he learns of his great expectations. What follows can be simply expressed; he goes to London and becomes a snob. There are, however, some redeeming factors, such as his frequent guilty moments when he thinks of Joe and Biddy, but he is always able to fool himself into ignoring them with some excuse. He is still, however, able to discriminate in his choice of friends and gains some who help him in his various hours of need. He meets Wemmick in London but cannot take this man's example of how to live in a society of criminals. His alienation from Joe (and the true values Joe represents) builds through Stage Two of the novel. He becomes selfish, greedy, foolish, and a spendthrift. The process he goes through in making out his bills illustrates his ability, at this point in his career, to fool himself successfully, and to turn his face away from reality toward what is basically empty and false. His helping Herbert Pocket secretly to a position is the only good thing he accomplished with his wealth. When Magwitch is revealed as the source of his expectations, a new phase begins in Pip's life. Pip is revolted by the man and can feel no longer the human sympathy for him he once felt naturally on the marshes. He has changed and can only think of himself, of his degraded position and his destroyed hopes. However, it is through the tie he has with Magwitch, and the life he spends with him from that man's arrival until his death, that Pip learns again many things he had forgotten and some new things as well. Magwitch is his true benefactor, not in money but through the devotion and love he and Pip come to share. After his death, Jaggers' suggestions about somehow getting hold of his property sound hollow in Pip's ears. His concern had come to be with the man and not with any expectations that the man could provide. Through Magwitch, he learns the full truth of Estella's parentage as well, and through this knowledge, comes to know that his aspirations were falsely based. Magwitch's property is forfeit to the crown and Pip is to be arrested for debt. However, he is too ill to go to prison. At this almost hopeless point, Joe arrives and, through his selflessness and devotion at Pip's bedside, becomes the second great teacher Pip encounters. Joe tends him and leaves before being thanked. This reinforces for Pip all the values he had as a child sensed in Joe but could not fully understand. We know of Pip's life after his recovery that he becomes a clerk and eventually, a partner in Herbert's firm. He has suffered much and grown in understanding of himself and others. For this reason, he is now able to reap the fruit of his one good act performed while he was wealthy, after first having reaped in full the evil seeds he had sown. Pip's marriage to Estella is also only possible because of the change in him, his development into a man who can love for natural rather than selfish desires, who can give as well as receive. Domestic life such as that of Biddy and Joe becomes possible for him as does honest labor. He, too, like Joe, is a working man. He has discovered (or rediscovered) the ultimate value of human relationships and virtues over the attractions of wealth and position. Pip's general qualities are purposely somewhat vague. The changes in him are more important than his personality itself. He seems friendly, cheerful, generous, and above average intelligence. Dickens wished to send a normal, basically likable human being through the experiences involved in Great Expectations, and he, therefore, created Pip. Perhaps Pip remains likable, and retains the reader's sympathy so well even at the height of his snobbery and foolishness, because we can see so readily in him our own weaknesses and those of every person; as well as a person's redeeming qualities.

Miss Havishan

She is an eccentric lady who lives in semi-seclusion with her adopted daughter Estella, because she was deserted on her trodding day, she has reg reared Estella to bake malicious revenge on her made sex.

We learn at one point in the novel that Miss Havisham was once beautiful and considered a great match. When we first meet her, however, that time has long passed, and she is a thin, frightening old woman whose entire life is now devoted to self-pity, to memories so bitter that they will not leave her, and to prideful revenge. She is mad, yes, but only in some respects. Even her madness is a sane and calculating one. Dickens has contrived to make her, and the house in which she lives, a unity; the aspect and conditions of the house are a clear reflection of Miss Havisham's mind. Decay is scattered about, time has stopped, and no light is allowed to enter through the barred windows. The darkness seems to nourish her and feed her passion for revenge. That Estella should carry out her vengeance is Miss Havisham's chief interest. Yet she also can be cruel in other, more petty, ways. She uses Pip to torment the relatives who plague her with false love and compliments. She deliberately encourages him in his mistaken idea that she is his benefactress and that Estella will be his. She does this despite her knowledge of the importance of these matters to him. She has been wronged and her pride, her shame, and her sensitive nature have let the wrong grow in the dark house until it has swelled out of all measure. She forgets everyone but herself and what she wishes; she is yet another example of pride and selfishness in the novel. She does not pause to consider Pip or his feelings. Actually, she did not pause to consider Estella's either; bringing much suffering to both of them. Yet, early in the book, we begin to see some redeeming features in Miss Havisham's character. She does not treat Pip badly when he visits her, and she is able to recognize Joe as a trustworthy man of honor and principle. She also knows her relatives to be humbugs. Incidents like these prepare us for her final realization of the misery she has caused and her touching pleas for forgiveness. Her repentance is complete and Miss Havisham, as well as Pip and Estella, comes to a new knowledge of herself as Great Expectations draws to a close. For her, however, it is too late and there is no life left for her to live afresh. In Miss Havisham, Dickens has created one of those characters who looms so much larger than life. Her larger-than-life size is due to the immense energy of her passions and will.


Like Pip, Biddy is also an orphan. She is good-hearted, wise, and sympathetic to Pip's troubles. Early in the novel, she has a romantic crush on young Pip, but eventually she falls in love with and marries Joe Gargery.


He would have killed to be a clergyman, but since he was not of the right social class, he became a parish lay clerk until frustration lured him to small town theatrical stages.

Joe Gargery

As Pip's brother-in-law and father-figure Joe is the most sympathetic of all the character in this book. He is hard worker, a loyal and gentle friend and a highly moral man.

Joe Gargery is the one figure Dickens created in Great Expectations to take his stand opposed to, and apart from, the main current of the action. He stays away, for the most part, from London and all that happens in its world. He enters only when needed. He is always present, however, in the mind of Pip; and Joe tends to peek out at odd moments to remind the reader (if not Pip himself) of those values and feelings Pip has trampled down in his new existence. Joe must seem to his neighbors much like what he seemed to Pip as a child: "a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy going, foolish, dear fellow." He is hard working and honest, and we learn that he believes in the virtues of industry. Joe is also naturally generous. This is illustrated clearly in his reply to the convict's statement that he stole some food from the blacksmith's house. Joe tells him that he was welcome to it if it kept a poor fellow creature from starving. Joe is also singular in the story in that he has no property. He regards all but the tools of his trade as belonging to Mrs.Joe. His freedom from material goods or desire for them sets him apart from the Pumblechooks and the "gentlemen" of the novel. We learn about Joe's childhood as he relates it to Pip. His father was a drunkard and beat both him and his mother often, causing them incredible hardship. Yet the epitaph that Joe had composed for his father reveals again his natural virtue in the sincere quality of his forgiveness. The epitaph, "Whatsume'er the failings on his part, Remember reader he were that good in his hart," could serve for Pip, as well, as he finishes his adventures. Joe's significance in the novel goes far deeper than that of a virtuous and kindly blacksmith. His larger importance is indicated by Dickens' references to him, throughout, in religious terms. He is "holy" and he makes the cottage have an air of "sanctity" for Pip. Pip refers to him as "that gentle, Christian man." All these can serve as examples of Dickens' intentional conceptions of Joe throughout the story. Joe is opposed to all false values; not through windy speeches but within himself and his very presence, he seems to chase away the feelings of emptiness and gloom. Immediately he rejects the doctrines of the importance of property, pretty speech, and manners. He has, from the beginning, the wisdom that Pip suffers to obtain, and he is, at the same time, able to live in domestic love and tranquility. Joe also possesses a strong sense of honor and a dignity that Miss Havisham immediately senses. His understanding of people coupled with sensitivity enables him to sense immediately when he is not wanted by Pip or is making Pip uncomfortable by his presence. Socially, he stands at the base of the book and supports it, just as, in his character as a blacksmith, he stands at the base of society. The fire in his forge is the light of the innate goodness in humans; a light of hope amid the false lights of the world that Dickens presents to us in Great Expectations.

Mrs. Joe

Joe's wife was more than twenty years old when Pip was born. She reared him "by hand", meaning basically that she hand-fed him as a baby, but as he grew older, she used large and heavy hand to discipline hime. Her temper proves her undoing when Orlick, her husband's apprentice, retalites and almost murders her.

Abel Magwitch

Pip's benefactor, a convict was deeply greatful when young supply him with food and file. After he attempting to escape.
He worked many years in New South Wales, Australia, to a mass enough money so that he could give the lad a bitter chance in life than he had.

Magwitch's first appearance on the scene is ferocious and sudden, but even during his threatening speech to Pip, he is somehow able to gain the reader's sympathy. It is worth noting that Magwitch does not say that he, himself, will eat the boy's heart and liver, but that another convict will do it. This convict does not exist as far as Magwitch knows. He does not wish to frighten the boy too much, yet he must frighten him enough to gain help in his desperate condition. Even here, his language is colorful. We see evidences of his good nature almost as soon as he is captured by the soldiers in his statement that he stole the pie and other foodstuffs himself. We also see Magwitch, in the first stage of Great Expectations, as a man who has undergone and is undergoing much suffering and hardship. On his return to England, we begin to see him more clearly. He is as coarse and common as Joe but in a different way. He, like Joe, is a laboring man, but Magwitch has worked himself up to the point where he is a rich one. Although he has money, he still, somehow, is an object of pity, arriving with his long gray hair streaming about his creased face hoping to see his boy a gentleman. Magwitch's motives are clear. Above all is gratitude a feeling that is notoriously lacking in Pip. His idea of making Pip a gentleman, in gratitude, has expanded, however. Magwitch, too (like Pip and Miss Havisham) is a victim of pride. He wishes to show the world he makes as good a gentleman as anyone as good a gentleman as those colonists in Australia whose horses kicked dust in his face as they rode by. Yet, he does not try to shape Pip with such great selfishness as Miss Havisham exercises in shaping Estella. He wants only simple pleasures out of his creation to be read to in foreign tongues and to be proud of his boy's appearance and accomplishments. Magwitch harbors resentment against the authorities and Compeyson, but, in both cases, we feel that he is justified. He is a brave man, fierce and single-minded when he returns to England. These qualities, his obsession with Pip's being a gentleman and his strange and wild appearance, make him like Miss Havisham in as much as he becomes a figure far larger than life. As the story draws to its close, we see Magwitch on more human terms. He becomes more kindly and quieter. He is always uncomplaining and trusting. He has grown old, and, with Pip's becoming a gentleman and the final death of Compeyson, his life is finished. He is able to accept, as God's will, his death sentence in that ridiculous and horrible courtroom. On his deathbed, Magwitch is a broken man if we compare him to what he once was. Yet, the breaking has revealed a love and gentleness that his hard life had kept concealed for years.

Estella Havishan

As the adopted daughter daughter of the bitter, eccentric Miss Havishan, she was brought up as an instrument of her benefactoress revenge on men. She is both beautiful and poised and Pip is infatuated with these qualities, dispite that she openly scornes him.

Estella is an orphan like Pip, and she is brought up even more so than he outside of society and its usual patterns. She is shaped, from babyhood, by Miss Havisham. Estella becomes an instrument of Miss Havisham's and her true daughter in mind if not in body. Her name means star, and she is as aloof and cold as her namesake. When young, she learns her lessons well and takes to them, enjoying the feeling of superiority they give her. She must, like Pip, be imaginative as well. Estella has been as strongly influenced by her surroundings as by the old lady's teachings. Later on in the tale, when she and Pip are together in London, she often speaks of herself as being akin to a puppet the control over her actions being in the hands of another. She speaks this calmly, so completely does she feel at one with Miss Havisham. At an indefinable point in the story, however, Miss Havisham lets go of the strings, and Estella continues on her own. We realize that it is she alone who is carrying on Miss Havisham's revenge that she can live no other way and can relate to people in no other manner. She marries Drummle. He treats her with extreme cruelty before he is killed, making a widow of her. Throughout her life away from Miss Havisham, however, and despite her denials, the one person who is able to penetrate the fraud and ice that surround Estella is Pip. He is her confidant, and she warns him in a way that can only be interpreted as a sign of some kind of affection or regard. We can see her gradually softening in her increasing confidences to Pip, and, at their final meeting, we are somewhat prepared for what the great changes that have taken place in them both bring about. Estella, too, has suffered in her marriage to a brute and has experienced, to the full, a life of falsity and vindictive pretending. Perhaps Miss Havisham's death also contributed to the wisdom Estella gained through suffering. In the final lines, we feel that this cold and beautiful woman has been through much the same ordeal as Pip. She has learned also that the life she led was a miserable and empty one. As the novel closes, Estella, too, has become capable of love and true human feeling.


Mr Jaggers' housekeeper, the true mother of Estella by Magwitch

Mr Jaggers

The Old Beily lawyer who defended Magwitch, he is commisioned by Magwitch to see that Pip is given an allowance at the proper time and made a gentleman, without Pip's knowledge of who his benefactor is during this time Jiggers aetes as Pip's guardians.

Jaggers is another character in Great Expectations who appears to Pip and the reader as larger than life. He is identified, from his first appearance, by his forefinger which becomes a symbol of his authority and of the power he holds over life and death. He is omnipotent in his sphere. He can leave his house unlocked; he knows that no thief would dare to rob him. He seems all-knowing as well for his appearance declares him as one who has knowledge of the guilty secrets of half of London. Wemmick states that Jaggers always looks as if he had set a man-trap and was watching it. A good measure of Jaggers' success is due, no doubt, to his knowledge of human nature and the guilt in all people. He is able to predict that Bentley Drummle will mistreat Estella. As a lawyer, his connection with crime makes him the perfect thematic vehicle for administering Pip's expectations. His achievements as a criminal lawyer also serve Dickens' purposes. They hold a revealing light to the law as practiced, to justice in England, and to the society that supports such systems. Jaggers is completely unscrupulous; he uses false witnesses and, no doubt, every other fraudulent tactic in the book. It is his business to defend the guilty, and he does it in a cold, efficient, and ruthless manner. Jaggers has his other side as well. Yet, this other side is only hinted at. We can see him becoming somewhat attached to Pip. He has some ties with Wemmick and with Molly, his housekeeper, as well. His washing of his hands as his clients leave his office is indicative of his hypocrisy in his dealings with them. However, it also marks an effort on Jaggers' part to keep, somehow, personally clean of the filth in which he makes his living and to which he contributes. When Jaggers learns of Wemmick's home in Walworth and calls him a "cunning impostor," Wemmick says, "I think you're another." Wemmick continues by saying that he wouldn't be surprised if Jaggers might himself be planning a pleasant home one day. It is clear that Jaggers has compromised himself in order to earn a living and that there is another side to him. He nods and sighs before he speaks again to Pip. "Pip . . . we won't talk about 'poor dreams'; you know more about such things than I, having much fresher experience of that kind."

Uncle Pumblechook

A Pompous seed merchant; Joe's uncle. He is one of the sharpest expressions at Dicken's unrelenting scorn of humbug and hypocrisy.


John Wemmick's life, personality, and character are all neatly and firmly divided in two. That he finds this division necessary (in order to work in a lawyer's office and also maintain a pleasant home) is an unspoken comment by Dickens by which he condemns England's lawyers, judges, prisons, and laws themselves. When he is in Jaggers' office or the surrounding areas, Wemmick is described in inanimate terms. He is wooden, and his expression seems to have been chipped out with a chisel. His mouth reminds Pip of a mail slot, but we soon discover that Wemmick has another side to him; his office manner is for the office only. When Pip goes to Walworth, he sees Wemmick's pleasant and imaginatively constructed home and also his devotion to his aged father. Wemmick is a lover as well, and his marriage is gay and delightful. Many of the novel's finest comic scenes occur in Wemmick's Walworth castle home. He is also a man who works with his hands, and he tells Pip that he is his own "engineer . . . carpenter . . . plumber, and my own gardener . . ." Like Joe, he is emphatically not a gentleman. Wemmick is always practical, at Walworth as well as in the office, and he advocates the amassing of "portable property," although he does not think of it in the offensive manner of a Pumblechook. He becomes firm friends with Pip and advises him wisely on a few occasions. In relation to the rest of the characters in the novel, Wemmick's circumscribed life and mentality make him seem smaller than life size but no less alive. His diminutive stature as a character makes him an excellent balance against Jaggers. It is as though Wemmick were etched with a fine line; and Jaggers drawn with a broad, sweeping one.

Mr. Hubble

The wheelwright in Pip's village.

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Form and Structure

Great Expectations was written in 36 weekly instalments, to appear in the magazine All the Year Round (Charles Dickens, editor). Some critics have pointed out that Dickens benefited from publishing in instalments, because it forced him to keep the action moving along and to keep the subplots intercorrected. Notice how often Dickens ends a weekly number on a note of suspense or excitement. Notice, too, how he manages to bring up different strands of the plot in each number, instead of going off on one track too long.
On the other hand, watch for numbers which consist of only one chapter. Usually these focus on Estella or Magwitch, those two figures Pip tries to keep apart from the rest of his life.
Once the magazine had published the final episode, the novel was brought out in book form, in three volumes, corresponding to the three stages of Pip's expectations. It may help you to look at the outlook abd the pattern action in each of this parts.

Part I: When Pip is a boy, life is seen through a boy's eyes; it is a world of monsters and magic, where events happen suddenly and illogically and people behace in unaccountable ways.

Part II: This shows Pip as a young "man of the world"; it is much more concerned with developing characters, with social satire, and with financial and legal arrangements.

Part III: Pip must become an active number of society. The plot turns into a full-fledged detective story as Pip unravels the secrets around him and hatches a scheme to smuggle Magwitch safely out of the country.

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