Great Expectations

Great Expectations: Summary

Summary of Great Expectations /Apr 24, 2022

Philip Pirrip, known as ‘Pip’, is an orphan who has been raised by his elder sister and her husband, Joe Gargery. Joe is a blacksmith, and a kind friend to the young Pip.

In the novel’s atmospheric opening chapter, Pip is in the local graveyard on the Kent marshes when an escaped convict named Abel Magwitch approaches him and demands that Pip help him. A terrified Pip agrees, and returns home to get Magwitch some food and a file so he can remove his leg-iron.

The next day (Christmas Day), soldiers arrive searching for Magwitch and another convict who escaped with him (with whom Magwitch had been fighting on the marshes). They ask Joe to accompany them, since as a blacksmith he can help to resecure the convicts’ fetters when they are recaptured. When Magwitch his hunted down and taken back to the convict ship, he tells the soldiers he stole his food from the Gargery home, to save Pip from his sister and the authorities.

A short while after this, the reclusive Miss Havisham, who owns the large Satis House, starts to invite Pip round to play with her young ward, a girl named Estella. Miss Havisham has worn the same wedding dress for years, ever since she was jilted at the altar by her husband-to-be. The clocks have been stopped in her house at the moment he jilted her, and the remains of the wedding feast are still rotting and putrefying. Miss Havisham has trained and conditioned Estella to be a heartbreaker: through her young ward, she intends to exact revenge upon all men for what her betrothed did to her.

A lawyer named Jaggers informs Pip that an anonymous benefactor is providing Pip with the money for him to become a ‘gentleman’ with ‘great expectations’. Pip leaves Joe and the blacksmith’s forge behind and heads for London, where he meets new friends (such as Herbert Pocket) and a few adversaries (the bullying Bentley Drummle). All this time, Pip is convinced that Miss Havisham is his mysterious benefactor.

When Pip’s sister dies and he returns to Kent for the funeral, he realises that he has become a snob who looks down on Joe for being uncouth and illiterate. Pip continues to try to woo Estella, but she remains cold and indifferent to him, and seems more interested in Bentley Drummle.

Then, one night, Pip receives a visit from none other than Magwitch, who had been transported to Australia after he was recaptured on the Kent marshes years ago. He has come back to see Pip, and reveals that he is his mysterious benefactor: having made himself rich in Australia, he wanted to repay Pip for the kindness he showed him all those years before.

Pip also learns that the other convict Magwitch had been fighting with back on the marshes, Compeyson, was the man who jilted Miss Havisham, and ran off with a large sum of her money. Compeyson is chasing Magwitch, and Pip agrees to help him (again). Meanwhile, Miss Havisham dies in a fire at Satis House, having learned that Estella has married Bentley Drummle, who mistreats her.

As if these aren’t enough twists and turns, Pip then learns that Magwitch is Estella’s father – he had a fling with Jaggers’ housekeeper years ago, but assumed the child died in infancy. Pip agrees to take Magwitch to safety on the continent, but as they are escaping on the river, the police intervene, with Compeyson in attendance. Compeyson and Magwitch fight, and Compeyson drowns.

Magwitch is gravely injured and dies, but not before Pip has told him that his daughter survived. Pip then falls ill following this series of traumatic events, but the ever-faithful Joe comes to London to nurse him back to health. When Joe leaves as Pip is feeling better, Pip follows him and asks for his forgiveness. Pip has remembered who he is, and where he came from.

He becomes a clerk in Herbert Pocket’s company, and achieves some level of success. Some years later, he meets Estella at the now-demolished Satis House. Bentley Drummle, her brutish husband, has died, having wasted most of Miss Havisham’s money that was left to Estella. She, too, is contrite for how she has behaved. The novel famously ends on an ambiguous note, with Dickens leaving open the possibility that Pip and Estella eventually get married after all.

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