Summaries and Commentaries



Pip, a seven years old orphan whose real name is Philip Pirrip, lives with his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, wife of the village blacksmith. Their home is in the marsh country, down by the river and close to the sea. His parents, whom Pip has never seen, are buried in a graveyard in the marshes, along with five little brothers. Pip often visits the graves, his only momento of his family.

On one such visit, one bleak Christmas Eve, he is surprised by "a fearful man, all in coarse gray, with a great iron on his leg," who rises from among the graves. After turning Pip upside down to empty his pockets and finding only a piece of bread, the man quizzes him and finds out that Joe, Pip's guardian, is a blacksmith. He demands that early next morning, Pip bring him a file and some "wittles"(food) or he'll have Pip's "heart and liver out." To further terrify the boy, he adds that he has a young man with him who "has a secret way pecooliar to himself, of getting at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver."

After swearing that he will be there, Pip fless in terror, and the man, hugging himself to keep warm, limps down toward the river, where a gibbet (gallows) stands outlined in the dusk.

Arriving home, Pip finds that his sister Georgiana, a stern woman with a heavy hand which she uses freely on both Pip and Joe, is out looking for him. "She made a grab at a Ticker," Joe says, "and she ram-paged [rampaged] out." On returning, she freely applies Tickler, a wax-ended piece of cane, to Pip's behind; then, in her usual aggressive way, she serves Pip and Joe some bread and butter. Pip, mindful of his need to collect "wittles," slips his slice of bread down his pants leg. Joe, a good, gentle man, fears that Pip has swallowed it in one bite, whereupon Mrs. Joe drags Pip away for a dose of tar-water.

Since it is Christmas Eve, Pip has many chores to do, and as he finishes, he hears the sounds of large guns. He learns that this means that a convict has escaped from the Hulks, the prison ships lying just off the marshes. Another convict escaped yesterday, Joe says. Sent to bed, Pip is too frightened to sleep, and at dawn, he goes down to rob the pantry. It is well stocked because of the season, and he manages to steal bread, cheese, mincemeat, some brandy from a stone jug which he replenishes from a kitchen jug, a meat bone with very little on it, and "a beautiful round pork pie." He approprites a file from Joe's forge, adjacent to the kitchen, then runs for the marshes.

Racing through the misty morning. Pip sees the convict seated in the marshes with his back to him. Touching him on the shoulder, Pip finds, to his horror, that this is another man, dressed in similar clothing, complete with leg-iron. The man takes a futile swing at Pip and disappears in the mist. Convinced that he has seen the fearsome "young man" described by "his cinvict," Pip hurries on to the appointed place.

While "his convict" wolfs down the food, Pip asks apologetically whether he should not save some for the young man, whom he has just seen. The convict, much agitated, graos Pip roughly. "Where?" he says. "Over there... Didn't you hear the cannon last night?" Pip asks. "When a man's alone on these flats," the convict replies, "with a light head and a light stomach, perishing of cold and want, he hears nothin' all night but guns firing and voices calling."

Learning that the other man has a bruise on his left cheek, the convict shouts, "Show me the way he went. I'll pull him down, like a bloodhound." He grabs the file and begins to work frenziedly on his leg-iron. Pip, seeing that he is ignored, slips away from home.

Mrs. Joe's Christmas greeting to Pip is "And where the duce ha' you benn?" Pip, expecting the constable to arrive immediately, explains that he has been to hear the carols. He and Joe sit down to a breakfast of bread and milk. Mrs. Joe, having planned a superb dinner, has too much to do to bother with decent breakfast for them. She is also too busy with cleaning to go to church, and so Joe and Pip represent the family. Joe is uncomfortable in his "holiday clothes," and Pip is in a torment of fear and remorse about his theft, particularly the pork pie.

The dinner guests arrive; Mr.Wopsle, the church clerk; Mr.Hubble, the wheelwright, and his wife; and Joe's Uncle Pumblechook, a well-to-do seed merchant in a nearby town. Uncle Pumblechook brings his perennial gift, a bottle of sherry and a bottle of port, and Mrs.Joe receives them with her usual deference to Pumblechook.

At dinner, Pip gets the worst servings, accompained by sermons on his character by the entire company except for Joe, who tries to compensate by repeatedly giving him more gravy. As the climax of the dinner, Mrs.Joe goes out to get the pork pie. Pip, knowing that the pie has long since been devoured, rushes to the door - only to be met by a party of soldiers, one of whom holds out a pair of handcuffs.

Pip's secret dealings with the convict are safe, however; the sergeant merely wants the handcuffs repaired. When Joe is finished, he and the soldiers set off for the marshes in search of the convicts, accompained by Mr.Wopsle and Pip, Mrs.Joe has having her permission out of curiosity to find out what happens. As they approach the Battery, where Pip had given his convict the "wittles" and the file, they hear several loud shouts and find the two convicts locked in a desperate struggle at the bottom of a ditch.

Pip's convict explains that he was dragging the other man, whom he obviously loathes, back to the Hulks. The second convict says he was being murdered. The sergeant replies that it makes little difference, and they set off for the landing-place. Pip's convict, to whom Pip has been able to give an indication that he was not responsible for the capture, announces that he stole food from Joe's house, including the pork pie which Mrs. joe missed just as the soldiers arrived. Joe assures him that he is welcome to it. The boats then return the convicts to the Hulks.

Pip is miserable over not tellong Joe about what he has done, but he is afraid of losing Joe's confidence and friendship. "In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong."

Joe carries the sleepy boy home on his back, and Pip gets the usual stuff reception from his sister and Mr.Pumblechook, who has an ingenious theory about how the convict got in the house and stole the pork pie.


Dickens begins this novel boldly; a sad little orphan is confronted in a cemetery by an escaped convict; already on page two, we hear Pip cry, "Don't cut my throat, sir!" There are no long paragraphs of exposition, of setting, or character development, as other writers often used at that time. Dickens skecthed in a few strokes, suggesting the desolation of the setting, gained our sympathy by having his main character a young orphan, and launched into his story.

He wrote this novel in monthly installments, for his own magazine, All the Year Round, and wanted to capture an audience. He did. From the first chapters, Great Expectations was a success and bolstered the magazine and Dicken's fame.

The novel is introduced as a rememberance, as a memoir, which adds authenticity to the story; it involves the reader through identification and creates curiosity as to the fate of young Pip, the orphan. Immediately, we feel sympathy for Pip because he has no parents and is standing before their graves; but, more important, Dickens makes us feel sympathy for Pip and Joe because both of them are, in a sense, victims or "prisoners" of Mrs. Joe's temper. Thus he creates a subtle parallel between Pip, a victim of misfortune and his sister's violence, and the escaped prisoner, another victim of circumstances - a figure of pity as well as horror.

Of particular importance in these first chapters is the emphasis which Dickens puts on the bond between Joe and Pip. Because both of them must must yield and succumb to Mrs. Joe's fierceness, they form a special sensitiveness toward one another. Later, when Pip is tempted by ambition and the promise of "great expectations," he will, with much guilt, sever this bond with Joe, a "mere blacksmith."

Take note in this section of Dickens' plottung. The scaped convict needs a file to cut his leg-irons. Pip mentions that his brother-in-law is a blacksmith. Blacksmiths have files. This is coincidence, but a coincidence that is cleverly calculated by Dickens. From Pip's fear and his natural generosity, he aids the convict, an act which will affect Pip's whole future.



Pip, who is to be apprenticed to Joe when he is old enough, attends an evening school run by Mr.Wopsle's great aunt, but unfortunately she sleeps through her own classes. One evening, about a year after the convict was recaptured, Pip shows jow a badly misspeled letter which he has spent an hour or two working on. Joe is much impressed, although he can do no more than pick out the letters J and O, for Joe himself is illiterare. Pip then decides to secretly teach Joe to read.

Mrs. Joe arrives after a marketing trip with Uncle Pumblechook, and they announce that Pip has been asked to go and "play" at the house of Miss Havisham, a rich and grim woman who lives in seclusion in a large, dismal house in the town. Pip is vigorously scrubbed and dressed, then he sets off to spend the night with Uncle Pubmblechook before going to Miss Havisham's. He is greatly puzzled about why he will play for her and what he will play.

After a breakfast at which Pumblechook examines Pip interminably on arithmetic, they set out for Miss Havisham's Satis House. At the locked gate, Pip is admitted by a condescending young girl who rudely turns Pumblechook away. Then, in a room where no daylight enters, Pip enters, Pip encounters Miss Havisham, a fantastic character dressed in a yellowed bridal gown which hangs loosely over her skeletal figure. She tells Pip that she has not seen the sun since before he was born, that she has a broken heart, and that she wishes him to "play" for her diversion. She then orders him to call Estella, the girl who admitted him, and directs them to play cards. As they begin the only game Pip knows, "Beggar My Neighbour," Pip realizes that everything in this room stopped all at once, a long time ago. Estella, disdainfully nothing Pip's coarse hands and thick boots, ridicules him and "beggars" (defeats) him thoroughly.

Afterward, Miss Havisham tells Pip to come back in six days, and Estella leads him out and gives him bread and meat and beer "as insolently as if I were a dog in disgrace." As he leaves, Pip has a momentary vision of a figure much like Miss Havisham, hanging from a beam and desperately trying to call to him.

Arriving home, Pip is convinced that to describe things as he saw them would be misunderstood; thus, he launches into a wild series of improvisations, including stories about a black velvet coach, four immense dogs fighting over veal cutlets from a silver platter, and a game with flags. Pip's listeners are suitably impressed. Later, however, Pip sneaks out to the forge, tells Jow that it was all lies, and explains what really happened. Joe, though saddened, advises Pip not to say anything about it to his sister and to tell no more lies in the future. Pip then reflects upon what Estella has said: how "common" his boots and his hands are, and how "common" he himself is.

Next day, Pip decides to make himself "uncommon" and asks Biddy, also an orphan, to secretly help him with his learning. Later, when Pip joins Joe at the Three Jolly Bargemen, he meets a "secret looking" stranger who asks him many questions and stirs his drink not with spoon, but with a file - Joe's file. When they are leaving, he gives Pip a bright new shilling wrapped in paper. At home, Mrs.Joe discovers that the "wrapping" is two one-pound notes.

On his second visit to Miss Havisham's, Pip is taken into a large, dusty, once-handsome room. There, on a table covered with rotting cloth is a strange centerpiece, so overhungs with cobwebs and spiders that it is impossible to tell what it was. In this room, Miss Havisham tells Pip, is the table where she will be laid out when she is dead; the cobwebbed centerpiece is her wedding cake. Pip then meets several of Miss Havisham's cousins, and he and Estella play cards, after which he has a brief scuffle with a bookish young man. Impressed and delighted, Estella lets Pip kiss her cheek before he leaves.

For the next eight or ten months, Pip returns to Miss Havisham's every other day at noon, pushing her around the rooms in a wheelchair, and playing cards with Estella, who is alternately indifferent, condescending, friendly, and hateful. Miss Havisham questions Pip about his life, but never offers aid in his education or money for his services. At home, speculations about his prospects are never-ending.

One day, Miss Havisham tells Pip to bring Joe to Satis House. It is time, she says, for Pip to become apprenticed to him. Uncomfortably dressed in his Sunday suit, Joe a accompanies Pip to Miss Havisham's, and there she establishes the fact that Pip has shown no objection to apprenticeship and that the indenture papers are in order. She then gives Pip a bag containing twenty-five guineas, specifying that this is all he will get for his services. She tells Pip that he is not to come again: "Gargery is your master now." At Pumblechook's, Joe lies about Miss Havisham's sending regards and money to Mrs.Joe and, after some teasing, he hands over the money. Pip is then formally indentured at Town Hall, and Mrs. Joe treats them all, as well as the Hubbles and Mr.Wopsle, to dinner at the Blue Boar -- with Pip's money. Pip, kept awake during the knowledge that once long ago he liked Joe's trade, but, unfortunately, " once was not now."


These chapters show us in detail Pip's growing dislike of his "commonness". Pip should be, one might think, grateful that his sister has taken him in and provided him with food and clothing, but, we discover, Pip has a dreamer's spirit and drive. He is tempted, from the first, by Miss Havisham's rich if eccentric furnishings and by Estella's contemptuous behavior. There is a certain perverseness in Miss Havisham's enjoying Pip's discomfort as he plays cards with the haughty, sharp-tongued Estella, but,because of his feelings of inferiority, Pip is determined that he will learn to read and write and better himself. He is fiercely determined boy, convinced that someday he will be Estella's cultural equal.

Besides providing us with Pip's growing ambitions and his expectations for a better life than that of a blacksmith, Dickens inserts a key sene in the Three Jolly Bargemen. We realize that Pip's encounter with the escaped convict will indeed have consquences which he -- and we -- cannot yet imagine. The file which Pip gave to the convict is used to stir a drink, and, in addition, Pip is given money. Earlier, Pip had a nightmare about the reappearance if the file; the dream has come true -- and will appear again.

As these chapters and, Pip alone in his bedroom, unable to sleep. He is miserable, aching for a better position in the world. He does not realize the sick dimensions of Miss Havisham's life, nor has he fathomed the cause and depth of Estella's snobbery. As he was a victim of Mrs.Joe's temper, he is now a victim of social class feelings.