Can one chance encounter change the course of a lifetime? In Charles Dickens classic novel, Great Expectations, one chance encounter leads to a series of events that will forever alter the life of Pip, the main character, as readers follow his story from the age of seven until his mid-thirties.
At the beginning of the novel, Pip is a simple boy living with his ill-tempered sister and her husband, the village blacksmith. Although his life is not easy, Pip is content. One afternoon changes Pip’s life. While he is visiting his parents’ graves, he is approached by an escaped convict, who threatens to kill Pip and his family is he does not help him. Pip does help the convict, but the convict is later caught and put back in jail. Pip believes this to be the end of his adventure.
At the same time, Pip receives a request from a reclusive woman who lives in the village. Miss Havisham has not left her home since she was left at the altar twenty years ago. In fact, she is so haunted by the event that she has not removed her wedding gown. Miss Havisham has a beautiful, yet cold daughter named Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella, who is incapable of love because she has been trained by Miss Havisham to seek revenge against men by being emotionally unavailable and manipulative.
After a few years as an apprentice to Joe, Pip learns that he has an anonymous benefactor. This benefactor has made arrangements for Pip to be unbound from his apprenticeship and educated as a gentleman. He is told that the benefactor wants to remain unknown and that Pip should not investigate the identity of his patron. Based on a series of connections and coincidences, Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor. In his mind, this means that a future with Estella is certain.
Pip becomes very comfortable in his new life of privilege, spending lavishly and abandoning his family and friends back in the village because he feels Estella would approve of these behaviors. The promise of a life with Estella consumes him until he realizes his benefactor is Provis, a man he met years ago under very different circumstances. He understands that his life will not be as he anticipated and that he has been manipulated by several people, each for their own reasons.
As in most Victorian literature of this time, the power of coincidence plays a powerful role throughout the story. Other prevalent themes explored by Dickens in Great Expectations include isolation, climbing up the social ladder, friendship, loyalty, guilt, crime and punishment, and the power of shame.
Unlike some other novels by Dickens, Great Expectations is still widely read today because of the well-drawn characters, the author’s use of details, the exquisite and realistic dialogue, the use of mood as a literary device, and the faultless plot. Many of the characters have become literary icons and the story has been widely adapted on the stage, television, and movie screen.
- The narrator of the novel
- Becomes a gentleman when a mysterious benefactor enters his life
- Is obsessed with love for Estella
- Enjoys his life of privilege
- Loyal to his friends
- Married to Pip’s sister
- The village blacksmith
- Loyal and protective of Pip
- Marries Biddy after Mrs. Joe dies
- Is illiterate
- Very friendly
- Pip’s sister
- Raised Pip up "by hand". Therefore, she gained respect from her neighbors
- Has violent temper which stops after she is attacked
- Requires daily care after a head injury
- A wealthy and reclusive woman who wants Pip’s company
- Estella’s adoptive mother
- Wants revenge on men after she was left at the altar decades before
- Has not taken off her wedding dress since she was abandoned
- Miss Havisham’s adoptive daughter
- Loved by Pip, but is not capable of returning his love
- Manipulates men for her advantage
- Raised by Miss Havisham to wreak her revenge on men
- Becomes Mrs. Joe’s caretaker after the accident
- Has a crush on Pip
- Does not like the romantic attentions of Orlick
- Marries Joe after Mrs. Joe dies
- Joe’s assistant in the blacksmith shop
- Does not like Mrs. Joe
- Has a crush on Biddy
- Believes Pip had been the cause of all his life struggles
- A lawyer who represents Pip’s benefactor
- Handles Pip’s estate
- Has connections to Miss Havisham
- Pip’s best friend
- Loyal and will go to any lengths to help his friend
- Interested in the merchant business, but lacks the necessary capital
- Works for Mr. Jaggers as a clerk
- Becomes friends with Pip outside of the office
- Provides valuable information to Pip on several occasions
- Has a different personality when at work when compared to when he is caring for his father, Aged P
- A contemporary of Pip’s
- Comes from money, and acts in an overall snobbish manner
- Is referred to by Jaggers as "spidery"
- Jaggers claims to like him, but warns Pip to stay away from him
- Flaunts his relationship with Estella to hurt Pip
- Marries Estella
- Pip’s convict and benefactor
- His full name is Abel Magwitch
- Goes by the name of Provis and is outwardly known as Pip's uncle
- Becomes obsessed with making Pip a gentleman
- Vows to kill Compeyson, who was once his partner in crime
- Was once a partner of Provis
- Left Miss Havisham at the altar
- Wants revenge on Provis
Pip, the narrator, grew up in the house of his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, the wife of the village blacksmith. His parents died before he could know them.
A man approaches Pip as he visits his parents’ graves. He takes the bread from Pip’s pocket and eats it. He threatens to kill Pip if he does not bring him a file and food. Pip promises to meet him in the morning.
Pip returns home and learns Mrs. Joe is looking for him. She has the Tickler, a cane she uses to beat Pip.
After berating Pip, Mrs. Joe gives Pip his bread and butter, which he decides to hide. Pip is accused of “bolting” his food, and Mrs. Joe gives him tar water as a punishment.
Pip is told that a convict escaped from prison.
That night, Pip sneaks downstairs and steals some food and brandy. He leaves to meet the man from the cemetery.
Pip meets the man and tells him he saw a younger man on the road dressed in the same manner. He had a badly bruised face. The man asked Pip where he can find the younger man. Pip points in the direction of the younger man.
Pip returns home for Christmas dinner. A guest is served from the brandy jug. It is revealed that instead of water, Pip filled the jug with tar water.
Mrs. Joe discovers her pie has been stolen, and Pip runs from the house. He is stopped at the door by a soldier.
The soldiers enter the house and ask for the blacksmith. Joe tells them it will take 2 hours to fix their handcuffs.
Pip goes with Joe to return the handcuffs. The man Pip helped earlier is caught with the younger man Pip saw. The younger man says Pip’s convict tried to kill him. Pip’s convict denies the charges, but says he stole food from Pip’s house.
The convict goes back to the prison ship.
Pip returns home and falls asleep.
Pip learns to read at the village school, but knows he will be soon apprenticed to Joe when he comes of age.
Pip is told that Miss Havisham wants him to visit him.
Pip arrives at Miss Havisham’s house, which looks as if it has been abandoned.
Pip enters Miss Havisham’s room. She is dressed in an old wedding dress. She says her heart is broken, and all she wants is to see him play.
Miss Havisham calls Estella, a young and rude girl, to play cards with Pip. Pip notices that the room looks like it had been abandoned by a bride years ago.
Pip is told to return in 6 days.
Mrs. Joe is eager to learn what Pip did at Miss Havisham’s house. She knocks him around when he does not answer her questions to her liking. He makes up a story when he realizes no one has ever seen Miss Havisham.
Pip tells Joe the truth about his visit.
Pip collects Joe from the local bar, where Joe is talking to a strange man who studies Pip.
Pip notices the man stirring his drink with Joe’s file. The man gives Pip a shilling. When he gets home, he finds two pound notes wrapped around the shilling.
He is afraid the man will kill him.
Pip returns to Miss Havisham’s. He notices all the clocks in the house have been stopped at 8:40.
Estella tries to make Pip cry, but he tells her he will never cry for her.
Instead of playing, Pip is made to wait in a room that had once been prepared for a wedding, but was also abandoned. Miss Havisham tells Pip this is where she will be viewed when she dies.
Pip fights with a young man in the courtyard as Estella watches. She then allows Pip to kiss her on the cheek.
Pip fear he will get in trouble for the fight, but nothing happens to him.
He continues his strange visits with Miss Havisham and Estella. Miss Havisham suggests Joe apprentice Pip at her house.
Joe meets Miss Havisham, who gives him money for Pip. She releases Pip to Joe. Pip is bound as Joe’s apprentice in the town hall that day.
Pip is unhappy as an apprentice and misses his time at Miss Havisham’s. He is ashamed and worries he is unworthy of Estella.
Pip asks Joe to allow him time off on his birthday to visit Miss Havisham. At his visit, he learns Estella is studying abroad.
On his way home, he learns some fugitives have escaped prison again. When he returns home, he sees his sister has been hit in the head and is lying on the floor.
Pip learns nothing was stolen from the house during his sister’s attack. A convict’s leg-iron is found next to her body. Pip believes the leg-iron belongs to his convict.
Mrs. Joe’s temper is greatly improved after the attack. However, she cannot talk and requires help around the house. Biddy comes to help.
Pip visits Miss Havisham on his next birthday, but Estella is still abroad.
Pip takes Biddy for a walk. He tells her he wants to be a gentleman, not a blacksmith. Biddy tells him that Orlick, Joe’s assistant, has a crush on her, and it makes her uncomfortable. He tells Biddy about Estella, and she is clearly disappointed. Pip wished he could love Biddy, but he loves Estella.
Pip is at a pub when a strange man makes a speech about how men should be considered innocent until they are proven guilty. He asks Joe and Pip to go with him to his house for a private conversation.
The man’s name is Jaggers, and he is a lawyer acting as a confidential agent of a client. Pip has a benefactor who wants Pip to be released of his apprenticeship and raised as a gentleman.
Pip believes Miss Havisham is his benefactor.
Pip prepares to leave home and is surprised when the people in town treat him differently because he has money.
He visits Miss Havisham before he leaves the next day.
Pip arrives in London 5 hours later and waits for Mr. Jaggers. Pip is overwhelmed by everything he sees in the city.
Pip is delivered to Mr. Pocket’s, his new instructor and Miss Havisham’s cousin. Mr. Pocket’s son Herbert greets Pip, and Pip realizes Herbert is the young man he fought with years ago at Miss Havisham’s.
Pip and the young man, Herbert Pocket, laugh off the coincidence and decide to be friends. Herbert tells Pip that Estella was adopted by Miss Havisham and was raised by her with the intention of getting revenge on men.
Herbert tells Pip about Miss Havisham’s past, including her engagement to a man who took advantage of her wealth. He sent her a letter as she was dressing for their wedding, saying he would not marry her. She stopped all the clocks at her home and has not left the grounds since.
Pip meets Mr. Pocket, who is a well-respected man and will be Pip’s instructor. Mrs. Pocket is a ridiculous woman who only cares about her royal connections.
Pip gets money from Mr. Jaggers to buy furniture for his rooms in London. He will divide his time between the city and Mr. Pocket’s school in the country.
Pip has dinner with Wemmick, a man who works for Mr. Jaggers. Pip becomes very comfortable with his new life of privilege.
Pip and a few friends have dinner with Mr. Jaggers, who is solely interested in talking with Drummle. Drummle is one of the students at Mr. Pocket’s school, but he is not well-liked by the other students.
After dinner, Mr. Jaggers tells Pip to steer clear of Drummle because he is trouble.
Pip receives a letter from Biddy telling him Joe will be in London and would like to visit.
Joe tells Pip he spoke to Miss Havisham. She asks Joe to tell Pip that Estella wishes to see him. Joe also tells Pip that Pip is now above Joe, and he really should not visit Pip in London again. Pip is hurt. Joe asks Pip if he would dine with him at his home, at his level.
Pip travels home the next day to see Estella. Two convicts are being transported on Pip’s stage coach, and one of the men is a convict Pip met years ago. He is very uncomfortable, but the convict does not appear to recognize Pip.
Pip visits Miss Havisham and meets Estella again. Pip walks with Estella and she tells him she has no heart or capacity to love anyone because of the way she was raised.
Miss Havisham encourages Pip to love Estella.
While he is home, Pip does not visit Joe because he knows that Estella would not approve. This makes Pip sad
Pip returns to London and tells Herbert he loves Estella. He warns Pip that a relationship with Estella would be miserable because of the way she was raised. He reminds Pip that opposites tend not to make a happy marriage.
Pip and Herbert attend a play, but all Pip can think about is Estella.
Estella sends a note to Pip telling him she will be arriving in London in two days. Pip plans to meet her.
Pip meets Wemmick and walks with him to Newgate prison, where Wemmick is meeting a client.
Pip meets Estella’s coach.
Estella tells Pip she is going to Richmond to live with a widow and make connections. She tells Pip that the Pockets write letters to Miss Havisham telling her how much they hate Pip. She says they resent his relationship with Miss Havisham. This surprises Pip.
Pip escorts Estella to Richmond.
Pip continues to be distracted by thoughts of Estella.
Pip and Herbert join a social club called the Finches of the Grove to improve their social standing in London.
He continues to spend lavishly and accrues more debt. Herbert is spending too much money as well and is now in a bad financial situation.
Pip receives a letter informing him that Mrs. Joe has died.
Pip returns home for the funeral. After the services, Pip talks to Biddy, who is somewhat hostile towards Pip. She is angry because Pip never visited after becoming a gentleman. Pip promises to visit Joe regularly, but Biddy doubts him. Pip is hurt and feels guilty.
Pip meets with Mr. Jaggers on his 21st birthday. He confronts Pip about his debts. Mr. Jaggers tells him that he will be given 500 pounds per year until further notice.
Pip tries to get information about his benefactor from Mr. Jaggers, but he cannot give Pip that information he wants.
Pip visits Wemmick at home and talks to him about Herbert. Pip wants to help establish Herbert in business anonymously.
Wemmick pledges his help. He introduces Pip to a young merchant who agrees to do business with Herbert.
Herbert does not know Pip secured this connection for him and is delighted to start his new life.
Pip continues to visit Estella, who torments him every time he visits. He is jealous of the suitors Estella flaunts before him. He recognizes that he has never been happy in her presence, but knows he is miserable and consumed without her.
Estella warns Pip to be careful around her because she cannot love him. Miss Havisham continues to push Pip and Estella together.
Pip realizes Estella will be used by Miss Havisham to wreak revenge on men, including him.
Miss Havisham calls Estella cold, and Estella states that she is cold because of the way she was raised. Estella is not capable of love.
Pip realizes Drummle, a fellow Finch, is also involved with Estella. Estella tells Pip she manipulates many men, but she never manipulates Pip.
A stranger visits Pip one night and enters his room. Pip realizes the stranger is the convict.
The stranger tells Pip that he changed his life. He reveals to Pip that he is his benefactor. Pip is shocked and concerned that he will be found with the convict.
Pip is upset to realize that Estella was never intended to be his and Miss Havisham is not his benefactor.
Pip questions the watchman, who says Pip’s “uncle” and another man were there last night.
The stranger’s name is Provis, but he tells Pip to call him uncle. Provis tells Pip he first met Mr. Jaggers when Jaggers was his lawyer. Provis gives Pip more money to spend and tells Pip he intends to stay.
If Provis is found, he could be hanged. Pip finds a lodging house for Provis and new clothes to change his appearance.
Herbert returns and finds Pip with Provis.
Herbert learns about Provis. After Provis leaves, Pip and Herbert discuss what should be done. Pip says he cannot accept any more money from Provis and break off the relationship, but Herbert convinces him this could be a deadly mistake.
The two men devise a plan to get Provis out of England.
The next day, Pip asks to hear Provis’ story.
Provis tells them he has been in and out of jail his entire life. His real name is Abel Magwitch.
He tells them of his criminal partnership with Compeyson. Eventually both men are on the prison ship, and Provis vows to kill Compeyson.
Herbert tells Pip that Compeyson was the man who left Miss Havisham at the altar.
Pip worries about what would happen if Compeyson learns Provis is alive and in London.
Pip visits Miss Havisham and sees Drummle in the village. Drummle has been spending more time with Estella.
Pip confronts Miss Havisham for misleading him when he thought she was his benefactor. He tells her that she is being unfair to the Pockets, and also asks her to help Herbert in business because he no longer has the money to help.
Pip tells Estella that he loves her but knows that she will never be his. She repeats that she is not capable of love, but is marrying Drummle. He begs her to reconsider.
When Pip returns to London, a messenger hands him a note from Wemmick telling him not to go home.
Pip finds a room at an inn, and he wonders what the note means all night.
The next morning, Pip visits Wemmick. He informs Pip that he and Provis are being watched. Pip asks if Compeyson is in London, and Wemmick tells Pip he is. Herbert is hiding Provis at his girlfriend’s house until things die down and they can sneak Provis out of the country.
Pip meets Clara, Herbert’s girlfriend, when he visits Provis. He tells Provis that Wemmick recommends he leave the country. Herbert offers to help.
Several weeks pass and Pip is running out of money because he will not take any more money from Provis. He realizes Estella is probably married to Drummle now.
Pip goes to dinner and learns that Compeyson followed him from an old friend. Pip is alarmed and worries about his own safety.
Pip has dinner with Mr. Jaggers and Wemmick. They inform Pip that Miss Havisham has requested to see him again to discuss Herbert. Pip decides to visit her tomorrow.
Pip notices that Mr. Jaggers housekeeper looks like Estella. He learns that the housekeeper did have a daughter years ago that she gave up. He also learns that Mr. Jaggers successfully defended her in a murder trial.
Miss Havisham promises to help Herbert confidentially. She asks Pip if he is unhappy, and offers to help him. Pip tells Miss Havisham that he forgives her, and she becomes very distraught and emotional about what she has done.
Pip learns Mr. Jaggers brought Estella to Miss Havisham when she was a toddler, but Miss Havisham knows nothing about the first few years of Estella’s life.
Pip goes for a short walk, and when he returns, Miss Havisham’s room is on fire. She set her wedding dress on fire and could not control the flames. She is badly burned, but Pip manages to save her.
Pip’s hands are burned as a result of saving Miss Havisham, but his hands will heal. Pip returns to London.
Herbert tells Pip that Provis had a relationship and a daughter with a woman Mr. Jaggers defended for murder. Pip realizes that Provis is Estella’s father.
Pip confronts Mr. Jaggers with Estella’s parentage, but Mr. Jaggers is unflappable. He says he protected Estella by removing her from a violent mother, and as a result, she has had a life of privilege. He tells Pip no one will benefit from learning his secret.
Several weeks later, Pip receives a message from Wemmick, instructing him to help Provis escape soon.
Pip plans to go with Provis to ensure everything goes smoothly. He plans to escape to Hamburg.
Pip finds a note instructing him to come alone to a sluice-house to learn more about Provis.
Pip goes to the sluice-house and is restrained by a man. His neck is put in a noose and his arms are tied behind his back. The man tells him if he screams for help, he will be killed.
The man who restrained Pip is Orlick, who is angry because he believes that Pip came between him and Biddy. Orlick plans to kill Pip and confesses to attacking Mrs. Joe years ago.
Pip is saved by Herbert and some men from the village. They return to London so that they can smuggle Provis to Hamburg.
Pip and Herbert meet Provis and begin rowing up the river. They stop at a customs house to rest. While they are eating breakfast, they learn a four-oared galley has been patrolling the area, arousing concern.
They start off for the steamer to Hamburg again. Just as Pip and Provis prepare to get on the steamer, the galley pulls up alongside, Compeyson is on board. Pip and Herbert are taken on board the galley. Compeyson and Provis are missing. Provis is found and shackled aboard. Compeyson is presumed dead.
Before he is returned to prison, Provis tells Pip he should not visit him unless he is with Wemmick.
Mr. Jaggers tells Pip that Provis will be found guilty and sentenced. He also tells Pip that Provis’ money will be seized by the government, cutting Pip off financially.
Herbert tells Pip he will be traveling to Cairo for business. He offers Pip a job as a clerk in his business. Pip asks for time to consider this option.
Wemmick asks Pip to take a walk with him the following morning. They walk to a church where Wemmick marries his girlfriend.
Magwitch is ill while waiting for his trial, and he is moved to the infirmary. At the trial, Magwitch is found guilty and sentenced to death.
Then he is executed
As Magwitch is dying, Pip tells Magwitch his daughter, Estella, survived.
The police come for Pip with the intention of arresting him because of his debts. Pip passes out, and when he wakes up, Joe is by his side.
Pip asks Joe to write a note to Biddy for him, expressing his love. Joe tells Pip that Miss Havisham has died.
Pip grows stronger under Joe’s care. One morning, Pip wakes up and Joe is gone. He left a note and a receipt showing that he paid off Pip’s debts.
Pip plans to return to the village so that he can propose to Biddy.
Pip returns to the village and finds Miss Havisham’s house is for sale. Pip learns that Biddy has married Joe.
Pip sells his belongings and joins Herbert’s business in Cairo. He eventually becomes a partner.
Eleven years later. Pip returns to the village to visit Joe and Biddy. They have a son named Pip.
Biddy asks if Pip has forgotten Estella. He says he has moved on. He learned Estella was miserable and left Drummle. He later died in an accident by his ill treatment of a horse, and Estella remarried.
Miss Havisham’s house has been torn down, but the old garden remains. He finds Estella there. She says she often thinks of Pip. She says she regrets that she threw Pip’s love away. They part as friends.