Great Expectations Summary

Charles Dickens

Great Expectations

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Great Expectations Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is a prime example of a bildungsroman, a novel depicting the growth and development of a character, usually a male. In Great Expectations, the plot follows the journey of Pip. Great Expectations is a Dickensian classic, with themes of wealth and personal growth, and it is critically noted as one of his best novels. As with most of his novels, Dickens published Great Expectations in serial form in a periodical before it was published in full.

As the novel begins, the young orphan Pip, full name Philip Pirrup, is visiting his parents’ tombstones in the church graveyard. He is approached by a convict in rags, with his legs in chains, who demands Pip retrieve him food and a file for his chains. Pip fetches the items, gives them to the convict, but then slips away. When the convicts are found by police, fighting with one another, Pip’s convict claims he stole the items himself. The convict is then taken to a prisoner’s ship.

Pip struggles at school, although he has made some friends, such as Biddy, his teacher’s granddaughter. Pip’s uncle sets Pip up to play at Miss Havisham’s home, Satis House. She is a strange old spinster, who wears a wedding dress, and has a collection of clocks that are all stopped at twenty minutes to nine. Pip meets Estella there, a beautiful girl around his age. Estella chastises Pip for his lack of manners. Pip is nevertheless enchanted by Estella, to the delight of Miss Havisham.

As Pip visits Miss Havisham’s more often, he hopes that she will one day pluck him from poverty, to be with Estella. He loves Estella, even though she looks down on him. Pip’s dreams are dashed as he learns Miss Havisham wants him to apprentice for his brother-in-law, Joe, the blacksmith. Pip is embarrassed and disappointed. He loathes working at the blacksmith. He also loathes Joe’s forge worker, Orlick, as he is mean and callous towards Pip. Later, Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, and Orlick argue with one another. After the fight, Mrs. Joe is attacked and becomes an invalid. Pip suspects Orlick, but there is no real evidence of his guilt.

Pip soon learns from Jaggers, a lawyer, that he is about to come into a great inheritance from an anonymous benefactor. Now he must learn to be a gentleman in London. Pip is delighted at this news and suspects his benefactor is Miss Havisham. Joe and Biddy are sad that Pip is leaving them, but he snobbishly looks down on them. Pip moves to London and becomes friends with Herbert Pocket, the son of Pip’s tutor. Herbert tells Pip the story of Miss Havisham’s past. She was left at the alter by her fiancé, who was below her in station, and who convinced her to lend him a great deal of money. She received a note he was not coming to the wedding at twenty minutes to nine, which is why all her clocks denote that time.

Pip decides he will return home for a visit after seeing Joe. He sees a grown-up Estella, who is beautiful, although she still treats him with contempt. Pip returns to London, but soon hears of his sister’s death and returns home. Pip is sad and regretful, and promises Biddy and Joe he will visit more often. Pip finally receives his full inheritance—500 pounds a year.

Pip’s life is thrown into chaos when the convict returns. The convict, Magwitch, is his benefactor. He made his fortune in Australia, and was thankful to Pip for his kindness. Magwitch is on the run from the law, so Pip comes to his aid. Magwitch tells Herbert and Pip his story, which Herbert deduces is intertwined with the story of Miss Havisham. An accomplice of Magwitch, Compeyson, is the man who left Miss Havisham at the altar.

Pip visits Satis House and finds that Estella has married Drummle, a boorish classmate of his. Miss Havisham explains to Pip that she had raised Estella to be heartless on purpose, but now feels remorse for decision. She also regrets leading Pip to believe she was his benefactor. Miss Havisham begs for Pip’s forgiveness; he does forgive her. As he is leaving, Miss Havisham accidentally sets her dress on fire, and although Pip is able to save her, she dies from her injuries.

Pip is lured to the marshes by a note. There, he is confronted by a vengeful Orlick. Orlick admits to hurting Pip’s sister, but blames Pip. Orlick is about to strike Pip with a hammer, when he is saved by Herbert and a group of men. Orlick escapes, but Pip chooses not to pursue him.

Herbert and Pip attempt to sail Magwitch down the river to help him escape but they are stopped by the police and Compeyson, who tipped them off. Magwitch lunges for Compeyson, and they fight in the river, but only Magwitch resurfaces from the water. Magwitch is sentenced to death and loses his fortune, along with Pip’s inheritance. Magwitch dies at peace, and Pip is now penniless.

Pip becomes ill, but Joe takes care of him. Joe also has news from home; Orlick has been arrested for robbing Pip’s uncle. He tells Pip that Miss Havisham left her fortune to the Pockets, and delights in telling Pip that he is literate thanks to Biddy. Pip decides to run home and marry Biddy, only to find that Joe has married her already. He is happy for them, but decides to work abroad with Herbert, in Egypt. Pip returns many years later and comes across a widowed Estella in the dilapidated ruins of Satis House. Estella has been changed, due to the cruelty of her husband. She now is kind, albeit a bit dejected. The novel ends with the two of them hand-in-hand, Pip believing that they will never be apart again.