Great Expectations

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Summary

Great Expectations

​​In a nutshell 

Great Expectations is one of Charles Dickens's most famous novels. The protagonist of the book is Pip, a young man from a humble background who is given the chance to become a gentleman by an unidentified benefactor. In this summary, you will learn about the plot, key characters and the overarching themes of the novel. 



Plot summary

Pip, an orphan, begins the novel with his horrid sister, Mrs. Joe and her husband, Joe. On Christmas Eve, Pip meets Abel Magwitch, a convict who forces him to steal for him. The convict is apprehended, but he protects Pip. Later, Pip is invited to Satis House to meet Miss. Havisham and her snooty daughter, Estella. Miss Havisham raises Estella to ruthlessly break men's hearts as retribution for being dumped by her fiancé twenty years earlier. Pip falls in love with Estella and begins to see himself in a new light after meeting her. Pip becomes dissatisfied with his situation. Mrs. Joe is assaulted and suffers brain damage. Biddy moves in to take over the household and becomes Pip's confidant.


Mr. Jaggers informs Pip that he has inherited a fortune and that he should relocate to London to become a gentleman and to further his education. Pip enters Matthew Pocket's study, snobbishly boasting about his new position. Pip begins to spend some time in London, where he meets Matthew's placid son Herbert Pocket; the two quickly become close friends. Pip's study partners are Startop and Bentley Drummle, the ill-tempered heir to a baronetcy. When Drummle pursues Estella, he becomes Pip's adversary. Pip wishes Joe were more polite and is concerned that spending time with him will lower his social standing. Pip returns to the forge for a brief visit after Mrs. Joe's death.


Finally, Pip's patron is revealed to be Magwitch, the imprisoned man Pip helped in the marshes. Pip is disgusted by Magwitch's manners and he is devastated to learn that Estella cannot be his bride. Miss. Havisham has led him on. Estella is set to marry Bentley Drummle. When a broken-hearted Pip declares his love for Estella, Miss Havisham realises her mistake in denying her a heart. Pip discovers Estella is the child of Magwitch and Molly, Mr. Jaggers' housekeeper.


Compeyson, Miss Havisham's cunning former fiancée, competed with Magwitch in the marsh prison. Pip learns gratitude and plans to take Magwitch out of England by boat while Compeyson searches for him in London. Magwitch and Pip are on the verge of fleeing, but Compeyson stops them. Compeyson drowns after a fight with Magwitch. Magwitch is apprehended, but he dies of illness before his planned execution. Pip becomes ill. Joe looks after him and pays his bills. Pip returns to the village in good health, hoping to marry Biddy, but instead discovers that she has married Joe. Pip sets out to become a merchant.


Pip returns eleven years later and meets Biddy and Joe's son, Pip the Second. Pip reunites with Estella. She has matured and developed a heart. The couple fall in love.



Characters

Pip

Pip is an orphan who lives with Mrs. Joe. Pip becomes more arrogant and extravagant in his quest for a lifestyle befitting Estella. Pip learns to assess people using their internal qualities rather than external ones.

Magwitch (Provis)

Magwitch, the convict, who is grateful to Pip for his assistance in the opening scenes of the book, gives Pip his life savings and adopts the identity of Pip's patron. When Magwitch arrives in London at the end of the novel, he adopts the name 'Provis,' which means 'God's plan.' Magwitch is a kind and good-hearted person, so his criminal record is largely the result of unfortunate circumstances rather than character.

Estella

Estella is Miss Havisham's adopted daughter; she is cold, aristocratic, and beautiful. Estella was raised by Miss Havisham to exact revenge on men. She has been raised to never love.

Joe Gargery

Joe is a father figure to Pip and protects him from Mrs. Joe. Pip looks down on Joe. Even when Pip is unappreciative, Joe shows love and loyalty to Pip.

Biddy

After Mrs. Joe was attacked, Biddy, an orphan whom Pip met at the local school, enters the forge to help. She is perceptive and calls out Pip.

Miss. Havisham

On the day of her wedding, Miss Havisham's fiancé (Compeyson) dumped her, leaving her traumatised. She dresses herself and her home as if for a wedding. Estella is adopted by Miss Havisham, who raises her to be attractive and desirable but heartless.



Themes

​​Class

One of the main themes of Great Expectations is the ultimate insignificance of social class in comparison to one's character. Dickens explores social class by charting Pip's rise through the social strata. He examines the class structure of Victorian England, ranging from the most despicable criminals (Magwitch) to the underprivileged marsh country peasants (Joe and Biddy) to the extremely wealthy (Miss Havisham).


Integrity

Dickens presents various forms of pride, from Estella and Bentley Drummle's snobbery to Joe and Biddy's moral uprightness, in order to explore pride as both a positive and a negative trait.


Crime

Dickens was an outspoken opponent of the British legal system for his entire life. He believed it was unfair and corrupt, encouraging criminals to continue their wrongdoing. Long prison terms and a lot of executions were common. Criminals like Magwitch were frequently sent to the colonies abroad. Even the protagonist of the book, with all his aspirations to be a "gentleman," cannot escape the psychological threat that crime poses in the novel.


Generosity

Despite the fact that Pip's initial generosity towards Magwitch is primarily driven by fear, Magwitch recognises it as genuine generosity and reacts by sacrificing his entire life's savings for Pip's future. Over the course of the book, Pip's capacity for recognising generosity changes, and his initial lack of gratitude toward Joe and Magwitch transforms into a profound admiration. 



Relationships

Pip \leftrightarrow​ Magwitch

Magwitch is Pip's secret benefactor. He gives his life savings to help Pip. Pip learns the importance of gratitude and tries to help Magwitch escape. Sadly, Magwitch is arrested and dies of illness. Magwitch is an example of how character and class are not synonymous with each other.


Pip \leftrightarrow​ Estella

Estella is the object of Pip's affection. She is cold hearted and cruel. As the novel comes to end, Estella matures and grows a heart. The pair fall in love finally.


Pip \leftrightarrow Joe

Their relationship changes over the course of the text from being warm and brotherly—forged in the crucible of adversity—to being distant and fractured, brought on by the gap in their physical and emotional well-being. At the book's conclusion, when Pip realises his ingratitude, everything comes full circle and their relationship is repaired.



Key Quotes

Chapter

Quote

Description

Chapter 15
'Miss Havisham and Estella and the strange house and the strange life appeared to have something to do with everything that was picturesque.'
Class
Pip explores how different classes exist and begins to understand that class has very little to do with character integrity.
Chapter 9
'lies is lies. Howsoever they come, they didn't ought to come, and they come from the father of lies, and work round to the same. Don't you tell no more of ‘em, Pip. That ain't the way to get out of being common, old chap…If you can't get to be uncommon through going straight, you'll never get to do it through going crooked."'
Integrity
A true gentleman is someone who earns their place fairly, regardless of social standing. This idea is something that the characters in the novel explore and struggle with.
Chapter 55
'For now my repugnance to [Magwitch] had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.'
Generosity
Pip learns the importance of gratitude. Throughout the novel, he begins to appreciate the things characters like Magwitch and Joe have done for him. He begins to appreciate kindness.
Chapter 9
'I thought long after I laid me down, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how thick his boots, and how coarse his hands. I thought how Joe and my sister were then sitting in the kitchen, and how Miss Havisham and Estella never sat in a kitchen, but were far above the level of such common things.'
Class
Pip views those with higher class as more important than those around him. His want to rise comes at the cost of his respect for those who have helped him.


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