Analysis of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations

Dickens’s 13th novel, published in 36 weekly parts in All the Year Round (December 1, 1860–August 3, 1861), unillustrated. Published in three volumes by Chapman & Hall, 1861. A Bildungsroman narrated in the first person by its hero, Great Expectations recalls David Copperfield, but Pip’s story is more tightly organized than David’s and Pip is more aware of his shortcomings. Pip tells his story in three equal parts, casting his life as a journey in three stages: his childhood and youth in KENT, when he wishes he could overcome his humble origins and rise in the world; his young manhood in London after he receives his great expectations; and his disillusionment when he learns the source of his good fortune and realizes the emptiness of his worldly values. The novel’s concise narration, balanced structure, and rich symbolism have made it the most admired and most discussed of Dickens’s works.

Stage I

Part 1 (December 1, 1860)

(1) Philip Pirrip, known as “Pip,” remembers the day when he was seven and gained his “first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things.” Then, while visiting the graves of his parents in the churchyard on a dreary Christmas Eve, the child Pip is surprised by an escaped convict who threatens to kill him if he does not bring him food and a file. (2) Back at the house of his sister, who has brought him up “by hand,” Pip is punished for getting home late for supper, but he has the sympathetic companionship of his sister’s husband, Joe Gargery the blacksmith. At supper Pip secretly saves his bread, and early on Christmas morning, after taking a pork pie and some brandy from the larder and a file from the forge, he slips out of the house and onto the marshes.

Part 2 (December 8, 1860)

(3) There he is surprised by another escaped convict, a young man with a scar on his face. When he finds the ragged man who scared him the day before, Pip watches compassionately as he devours the food and files the manacle from his leg, but he arouses the convict’s anger when he tells him of the other escapee on the marshes. (4) At Christmas dinner, while he guiltily awaits the discovery of the theft from the larder, Pip is admonished by his Uncle Pumblechook and the other guests to “be grateful” and to overcome the tendency of boys to be “naterally wicious.” As his sister goes to the larder to fetch the pork pie that he stole for the convict, a troop of soldiers appears at the door.

Part 3 (December 15, 1860)

(5) The soldiers ask Joe to repair some handcuffs. Then Joe and Pip follow them as they pursue the convicts. The two escapees are captured as they fight with each other on the marshes. Before he is returned to the prison ship anchored in the Thames, Pip’s convict confesses to stealing some food from Mrs. Joe’s larder. Joe forgives him, saying, “We don’t know what you have done, but we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creatur.—Would us, Pip?”

Part 4 (December 22, 1860)

(6) Pip is unable to tell Joe the truth about the theft from the larder. (7) As he awaits the time when he will be apprenticed to Joe, Pip gets some rudimentary education from Mr. Wopsle’s great aunt and her granddaughter Biddy, enough to realize that Joe cannot read. Then, about a year after the convict episode, Mrs. Joe announces that her Uncle Pumblechook has arranged for Pip to play at the house of Miss Havisham, a rich recluse in the nearby market town.

Part 5 (December 29, 1860)

(8) Pumblechook delivers the boy to Satis House the next morning. There Pip meets Estella, a supercilious young woman not much older than he, and Miss Havisham, an old woman in a tattered bridal dress, inhabiting rooms in the ruined house where everything is yellowed with age and all the clocks have stopped at 20 minutes to nine. Miss Havisham orders Pip and Estella to play cards and urges Estella to break Pip’s heart. Pip fights back tears when Estella ridicules him as coarse and common, and he escapes into the garden to cry. There he has a sudden vision of Miss Havisham in the abandoned brewery, hanging from a beam and calling to him.

Part 6 (January 5, 1861)

(9) When Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe ask about Miss Havisham, Pip caters to their imaginings by telling them a fantastic tale about a black velvet coach, four dogs, and a silver basket of veal cutlets. Later he confesses to Joe that he made up the story because he felt “common,” but Joe assures him that he is “oncommon small” and an “oncommon scholar.” (10) Pip enlists Biddy’s help in teaching him to be “uncommon.” One Saturday evening, Pip finds Joe at the Jolly Bargeman with a “secret-looking” stranger who stirs his drink with a file and gives Pip a shilling wrapped up in two one-pound notes. Pip fears that his connection with the convict will come to light.

Part 7 (January 12, 1861)

(11) When Pip returns to Miss Havisham’s, her relatives have gathered at Satis House for her birthday. Estella insults him, slaps him, and dares him to tell. Miss Havisham shows him a table spread with a decaying feast, including the remains of a wedding cake, where she will be laid out when she dies. She points out the places her relatives will occupy at this table when she is dead. Again she orders Pip to play cards with Estella and to admire her beauty. When he goes out into the garden, Pip meets a pale young gentleman there who challenges him to fight. Pip reluctantly enters the match, but he knocks the young man to the ground and gives him a black eye. After the fight, Estella invites him to kiss her.

Part 8 (January 19, 1861)

(12) Pip’s visits to Satis House become more frequent. He pushes Miss Havisham around her rooms in a wheelchair and plays cards with Estella as the old lady murmurs, “Break their hearts, my pride and hope!” One day, Miss Havisham, noting that Pip is growing tall, asks him to bring Joe Gargery to Satis House. (13) Two days later, in his Sunday clothes, Joe accompanies Pip to Miss Havisham’s. She asks Joe whether Pip has ever objected to becoming a blacksmith and if Joe expects a premium for taking Pip on as an apprentice. Joe, speaking through Pip, replies no to both questions, but she gives him 25 guineas anyway to pay for Pip’s apprenticeship. The Gargerys celebrate the occasion with a dinner at the Blue Boar, but Pip is wretched, convinced he will never like Joe’s trade.

Part 9 (January 26, 1861)

(14) Pip does not tell Joe of his unhappiness, but as he works at the forge he remembers his former visits to Satis House and sees visions of Estella’s face in the fire. (15) Although Joe advises against it, Pip takes a half-holiday to visit Miss Havisham. His fellow worker, Dolge Orlick, a surly and contrary man, envies Pip and demands equal time off, but when he offends Joe with some derogatory remarks about Mrs. Joe, the blacksmith knocks him to the ground. At Satis House, Pip learns that Estella has gone abroad to be educated. Miss Havisham tells him that he can visit her each year on his birthday, but he is to expect nothing from her. Back at the forge, he discovers that someone has broken into the house and Mrs. Joe has been knocked senseless by an unknown assailant.

Part 10 (February 2, 1861)

(16) The weapon was an old convict’s leg-iron. Convinced that it is the manacle from his convict’s leg, Pip feels guilty, as if he struck the blow himself. Mrs. Joe is left unable to speak and partly paralyzed, but she changes character and becomes good-tempered. Although Orlick is suspected of the crime, Mrs. Joe is conciliatory to him. Biddy, Pip’s schoolmate and teacher, moves to the forge to take over housekeeping duties. (17) On his birthday Pip visits Miss Havisham, receives a guinea, and is told to come again next year. It becomes his regular custom. Meanwhile, Pip and Biddy develop a close friendship and he confesses to her his desire to become a gentleman “on Estella’s account.” She wisely asks him whether he wants “to be a gentleman, to spite her or to gain her over?” As Pip and Biddy walk through the countryside, Orlick follows them.

Part 11 (February 9, 1861)

(18) In the fourth year of his apprenticeship, Pip is surprised by Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham’s lawyer from London, who announces that Pip has “great expectations.” If Joe will release him from his apprenticeship, Pip is to move to London and become a gentleman. He is to be known as Pip and not to ask the identity of his benefactor. Joe refuses any compensation for Pip’s release, but there is a touch of sadness in his celebration of Pip’s good fortune. (19) After they burn the apprenticeship papers, Pip talks of what he will do to raise Joe up. He bids farewell to Pumblechook, who takes credit for Pip’s good fortune, and to Miss Havisham. After an awkward parting from Joe, Pip sets out for London.

Stage II

Part 12 (February 23, 1861)

(20) In London, Jaggers, a criminal lawyer, is to act as the representative of Pip’s unnamed benefactor. At Jaggers’s office near Smithfield Market, Pip finds a host of shady characters clamoring for the lawyer’s attention. While he waits, Pip visits Newgate Prison nearby. (21) Jaggers has his clerk, John Wemmick, take Pip to Barnard’s Inn, where he is to stay with Herbert Pocket, the son of his tutor. When he meets Herbert, Pip recognizes him as the pale young gentleman he fought in Miss Havisham’s garden.

Part 13 (March 2, 1861)

(22) Herbert teaches Pip the manners of a gentleman and nicknames him “Handel” (in honor of the composer’s “Harmonious Blacksmith”). Herbert tells Pip of Estella, adopted by Miss Havisham to wreak vengeance on men. He also recounts the story of Miss Havisham’s own past: The daughter of a wealthy brewer, she, with her half-brother, inherited their father’s business. She fell in love with a fast-talking con-man who proposed to marry her and convinced her to buy her brother’s share in the brewery at a high price. Then he split the proceeds with her brother and jilted her on her wedding day, the day she stopped the clocks at 20 minutes to nine and withdrew into Satis House.

Part 14 (March 9, 1861)

(23) At the home of Matthew Pocket, Herbert’s father, who is to act as Pip’s tutor, Pip meets his fellow pupils: Drummle, a disagreeable young man from a wealthy family, and Startop, a delicate and friendly fellow. The Pocket household is in disarray. Matthew, educated at Harrow and Cambridge, is impractical and a poor manager; his wife Belinda, daughter of a knight, is obsessed with social position and pays no attention to housekeeping. (24) When Pip goes to secure Jaggers’s approval for his plan to live at Barnard’s Inn with Herbert, he has an opportunity to watch the lawyer’s intimidating courtroom manner and to become further acquainted with Wemmick, Jaggers’s clerk. Wemmick shows Pip the death masks of some of their former clients; advises him to “get hold of portable property”; and tells him, when he goes to Jaggers’s house for dinner, to observe the housekeeper, whom he describes as “a wild beast tamed.” He also invites Pip to visit his home in the suburbs.

Part 15 (March 16, 1861)

(25) Although some of the Pockets resent Pip, thinking that he has intruded on their rightful portion of Miss Havisham’s fortune, Matthew, who has refused to curry favor with Miss Havisham, bears him no ill will. Pip’s studies progress nicely. When he visits Wemmick at his home in Walworth, he finds him very different from the hard and materialistic clerk he met in the City. Wemmick lives in a bucolic little castle, surrounded by a moat, gardens, and animal pens, and he maintains a domestic establishment with his Aged Parent. Jaggers knows nothing of Wemmick’s private life, for Wemmick’s policy is to keep office and home totally separate. (26) When Pip goes to Jaggers’s house for dinner with Startop and Drummle, the lawyer makes his housekeeper, Molly, display her strong and scarred wrists. Fascinated with Drummle, Jaggers calls him “the Spider” and provokes him to boast of his strength and to reveal his dislike for Pip. As they leave Jaggers advises Pip to keep clear of Drummle.

Part 16 (March 23, 1861)

(27) Joe visits Pip in London. Dressed uncomfortably in his best clothes and intimidated by Pip’s formality and servant boy, he addresses his old companion as “sir.” He tells Pip that Wopsle has come to London to be an actor, that Estella has returned to Satis House and would be glad to see him, and that Pip is always welcome at the forge. Then he leaves. (28) Pip immediately sets out to see Estella. On the coach going to his hometown, he rides with two convicts, one of whom talks of once delivering two one-pound notes to a boy in the town. Pip is shaken by this coincidence. Once he is home, Pip decides to stay at the Blue Boar Inn rather than at the forge.

Part 17 (March 30, 1861)

(29) Pip is disturbed to find Orlick working as the porter at Satis House, but Estella is more beautiful than ever. She warns him that she has “no heart,” but Miss Havisham urges him to “Love her, love her, love her!” Pip is convinced that Miss Havisham has chosen him for Estella. He is uneasy that he has not gone to visit Joe.

Part 18 (April 6, 1861)

(30) As Pip walks through town, the tailor’s boy mocks his snobbery and elegance in the street by pretending not to know him. Pip warns Jaggers about Orlick, and the lawyer promises to dismiss him from Miss Havisham’s service. Back in London, Pip confesses to a dubious Herbert that he loves Estella. Herbert reveals that he is secretly engaged to Clara Barley, the daughter of a ship’s purser. (31) Pip and Herbert see Mr. Wopsle, the parish clerk from Pip’s village who has ambitions for the stage, perform Hamlet. After the wretched but hilarious production, they invite the actor, whose stage name is Waldengarver, to dinner.

Part 19 (April 13, 1861)

(32) When Estella asks Pip to meet her coach in London, he arrives hours early. While he is waiting, Wemmick takes him through Newgate Prison. He returns just in time to see Estella’s hand waving to him in the coach window. (33) She tells him that she is going to be introduced into society and that he may visit her in Richmond. Pip takes this as part of Miss Havisham’s plan for them (33).

Part 20 (April 20, 1861)

(34) Pip falls into lavish spending habits. He and Herbert list their debts, but then, with the other members of their club, the Finches of the Grove, they get even further into debt. When Pip learns that his sister has died (35), he returns home for the funeral. There Biddy tells him that his sister’s last words were “Joe,” “Pardon,” and “Pip.” Pip is annoyed when Biddy doubts his promise to come often to see Joe.

Part 21 (April 27, 1861)

(36) On his 21st birthday, Pip receives £500 from Jaggers to pay his debts. Jaggers says that he will receive the same sum each year until his benefactor reveals himself. Pip asks Wemmick to help him use some of the money to advance Herbert’s prospects. When Wemmick gives his “deliberate opinion in this office” against doing so, Pip asks to solicit his opinion at home. (37) There Wemmick suggests that Pip buy Herbert a position with Clarriker, an up-and-coming shipping broker. Wemmick has Skiffins, his fiancée’s brother, arrange it so that Herbert will not know the source of his good fortune.

Part 22 (May 4, 1861)

(38) Pip visits Estella frequently. Although she warns him to beware of her, she also drives him to jealous distraction. When the two of them visit Satis House, Miss Havisham delights to hear of Estella’s conquests, but she accuses her of being cold and indifferent to her. “I am what you have made me,” Estella replies, proud and hard. Unable to sleep that night, Pip observes Miss Havisham walking the halls of Satis House moaning. Back in London, he is outraged when Drummle toasts Estella at a meeting of the Finches. Pip warns her against him; she says that she is simply out to “deceive and entrap” him. Pip tells the story of the sultan who, at the height of his power, is crushed by a great stone from the roof of his palace, and Pip says that “the roof of [his] stronghold” is about to fall on him.

Part 23 (May 11, 1861)

(39) A week after his 23rd birthday, late on a stormy night while Herbert is away, Pip is surprised by someone calling his name on the stairs outside his door. It is a man about 60 years old with irongrey hair, dressed like a sea voyager. When the man holds out his hands, as if to embrace him, Pip recognizes the convict from the marshes. He has been a sheep farmer in New South Wales and reveals that he is the source of Pip’s expectations. The convict looks about Pip’s rooms with the pride of ownership, especially at his gentleman. “I’m your second father,” he tells Pip, but Pip is horrified and speechless and troubled by knowing that the convict will be hanged if he is discovered in England. Gradually he realizes that all his ideas about Miss Havisham and Estella were a dream and that he deserted Joe and Biddy to be linked with a criminal.

Stage III Part 24 (May 18, 1861)

(40) The next morning Pip learns that his benefactor is Abel Magwitch, going by the name Provis, and that he has returned to England for good, even though he will be sentenced to death should he be caught. Pip dresses him like a prosperous farmer and secures rooms for him in a nearby lodging house. Jaggers confirms Magwitch’s identity as Pip’s benefactor by not denying it; the lawyer says that he warned Magwitch not to return to England. When Herbert returns to London, Magwitch swears him to silence.

Part 25 (May 25, 1861)

(41) Pip and Herbert agree that Pip should take no more of Magwitch’s money and that Magwitch must be gotten out of England. (42) Magwitch tells them the story of his life: about 20 years earlier he became an accomplice of a gentleman named Compeyson, a forger and swindler who, with a Mr. Arthur, had just bilked a rich lady of her fortune. Arthur, near death at the time, had nightmares about a woman in white who tried to cover him with a shroud. When Magwitch and Compeyson were arrested and tried for their crimes, Magwitch was sentenced to 14 years. Compeyson, presenting himself as a gentleman, received a light sentence, and Magwich resentfully vowed revenge. Finding himself on the same prison ship with Compeyson, he struck him, scarring his face, and then escaped from the ship, only to learn that Compeyson had also escaped. In ensuring Compeyson’s recapture, Magwitch was also taken and sentenced to transportation for life. He does not know what happened to Compeyson. After hearing the story, Herbert tells Pip that Arthur was Miss Havisham’s brother and Compeyson her lover.

Part 26 (June 1, 1861)

(43) Pip returns home to see Estella. At the Blue Boar, he finds Drummle attended by Orlick. Drummle is also there to see Estella. (44) Pip accusingly tells Miss Havisham and Estella of his benefactor. Miss Havisham admits to leading him on, but tells him he made his own snares. She justifies her actions as a way of tormenting her avaricious relatives. Pip pours out his love for Estella, but she says he touches nothing in her breast and tells him that she plans to marry Drummle. Distraught, Pip walks back to London, arriving late at night. The watchman at the gate to his rooms has a note for him from Wemmick. It reads, “Don’t go home.”

Part 27 (June 8, 1861)

(45) After a restless night in a hotel, Pip learns from Wemmick that his rooms are being watched by Compeyson and that he must get Provis out of the country. (46) Pip arranges with Provis, now known as Mr. Campbell, to watch for him as he rows on the river. He and Herbert plan to keep a boat at the Temple stairs and to make a regular practice of rowing up the Thames. When the time is right, they will get the convict from his hiding place and take him to the Continent.

Part 28 (June 15, 1861)

(47) As Pip waits for the signal from Wemmick that the time has come to take Magwitch out of the country, he and Herbert regularly row down the river. One evening after attending one of Wopsle’s dramatic performances, Pip learns from the actor that the second convict taken on the marshes was sitting behind him in the theater. Pip knows that Compeyson is watching him, and he writes to Wemmick of the growing danger.

(48) During dinner at Jaggers’s house, Pip notices Molly’s hands. They remind him of Estella’s hand as she waved from the coach window on her arrival in London. Wemmick tells him what he knows of Molly’s story: that she was tried for the strangulation murder of a woman much larger than herself; that Jaggers concealed the strength of her hands during the trial and argued that she was physically incapable of the crime; that she was suspected of destroying her three-year-old daughter at the time of the trial to avenge herself on the father; and that, after her acquittal, she went to work for Jaggers.

Part 29 (June 22, 1861)

(49) Pip goes to Satis House to learn more of Estella’s story. A remorseful Miss Havisham tells Pip how she took the child supplied by Jaggers and turned the girl’s heart to ice, that she knows nothing of Estella’s parentage, and that Estella is now married and in Paris. She supplies Pip with money to pay for Herbert’s position with Clarriker’s and asks him to forgive her. As he walks in the ruined garden outside the house, Pip again sees the vision of Miss Havisham hanging from a beam. When he returns to bid her farewell, her dress is suddenly set afire by the flames in her grate. Pip extinguishes the flames, burning his hands in the process. That evening, as he leaves for London, the seriously injured old woman mutters distractedly, “What have I done?” (50) Herbert cares for Pip’s burns and tells him what he has learned of Magwitch’s story: Magwitch had a daughter of whom he was fond, but he lost touch with her when he went into hiding during the trial of the child’s mother. Compeyson controlled him by threatening to reveal his whereabouts to the authorities. The child, had she lived, would be about Pip’s age. Pip is sure that Magwitch is Estella’s father.

Part 30 (June 29, 1861)

(51) Pip challenges Jaggers to confirm his suspicion about Estella’s parentage. Jaggers obliquely does so, telling Pip that he hoped to save one of the many lost children by giving Estella to Miss Havisham. Jaggers asserts that it will do no one any good—not Molly, nor Magwitch, nor Estella—to reveal the truth now, and he advises Pip to keep his “poor dreams” to himself. (52) When Wemmick signals that the time has come to smuggle Magwitch to the continent, Pip’s hands are still too badly burned to row the boat. He enlists Startop’s aid. Before they can set out, however, Pip receives a mysterious letter telling him to come that evening to the limekiln on the marshes near his former home if he wants “information regarding your uncle Provis.”

Part 31 (July 6, 1861)

(53) In the dark sluice house, Pip is suddenly attacked and bound by a noose. The attacker is Orlick, who plans to kill him. Orlick accuses Pip of causing him to lose his job with Miss Havisham and of coming between him and Biddy. He admits that he struck Mrs. Joe with the manacle, but claims “it warn’t Old Orlick as did it; it was you.” He knows about Magwitch. As he is about to strike Pip with a hammer, Startop, Herbert, and Trabb’s Boy come to the rescue. Exhausted and ill from the ordeal, Pip is now very concerned about Magwitch’s safety.

Part 32 (July 13, 1861)

(54) The next morning, Pip, Startop, and Herbert set out on the river. After picking up Magwitch, they go to an isolated inn to spend the night before rowing out to meet the Hamburg packet steamer the next morning. Pip is uneasy when he sees two men examining their boat. The next morning, they are followed by another boat and ordered to turn over Abel Magwitch. Compeyson is in the other boat. In the confusion that follows, Compeyson and Magwitch go overboard, locked in struggle. Only Magwitch surfaces. Afterward, Pip accompanies Magwitch, injured and having difficulty breathing, back to London. He no longer feels any aversion to the wretched man who holds his hand in his. Pip knows that all Magwitch’s property will be forfeited to the Crown.

Part 33 (July 20, 1861)

(55) Magwitch’s trial is set for a month from the time of his arrest. Meanwhile, Herbert, now a shipping broker, prepares to go to Egypt, where he will be in charge of Clarriker’s Cairo office. He offers Pip a clerk’s position there. Jaggers and Wemmick both deplore Pip’s failure to secure Magwitch’s property. Wemmick invites Pip to breakfast at Walworth. Afterward, they walk to a country church, where Wemmick and Miss Skiffins are married in an apparently impromptu ceremony. (56) Pip visits Magwitch daily in the prison hospital and holds his hand at the trial when he is condemned to hang. But Magwitch is gravely ill and dies with Pip at his side before the sentence is carried out. On his deathbed, he thanks Pip for not deserting him. Pip tells him that his daughter lives and that he loves her.

Part 34 (July 27, 1861)

(57) Pip, deeply in debt, is very ill. When the arresting officers come, he is delerious and loses consciousness. He awakens from the fever to discover Joe, gentle as an angel, caring for him. As he slowly recuperates he learns from Joe that Miss Havisham has died, leaving all of her property to Estella except for £4,000 left to Matthew Pocket. He also learns that Orlick is in jail for assaulting Pumblechook. As Pip recovers, Joe becomes more distant. After Joe returns home, Pip learns that Joe has paid his debts. Pip considers his options: to return to the forge and ask Biddy to take him back or to go to Cairo to work with Herbert.

Part 35 (August 3, 1861)

(58) No longer a man of property, Pip gets a cool reception at the Blue Boar and from Pumblechook. When he returns to the forge, he discovers that it is Joe and Biddy’s wedding day. He asks their forgiveness, promises to repay the money that Joe spent to pay his debts, and goes off to Egypt. There he lives with Herbert and Clara and rises to become third in the firm. Only then does Clarriker tell Herbert that Pip had originally paid for his position. (59) After 11 years in Egypt, Pip returns home to visit Joe, Biddy, and their son Pip. At the ruins of Satis House, he finds Estella, a widow who suffered at the hands of an abusive husband. She asks Pip’s forgiveness “now, when suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be.” They vow friendship, and as they leave the ruined garden, Pip takes her hand and sees “no shadow of another parting from her.”


Although Dickens’s original plan seems to have been to publish Great Expectations in monthly numbers, he opted to write it as a weekly serial for All the Year Round when the magazine’s sales slipped during the run of Charles Lever’s tedious A Long Day’s Ride. Expectations restored the audience for the magazine, but it changed Dickens’s novel from what it would have been in monthly parts. Each weekly number comprised only one or two short chapters, and like the other novels in the magazine, it was unillustrated. This format forced Dickens to adopt concise and focused chapters, to concentrate on a single story line, and to work out, almost mathematically, the overall structure of the novel. He divided the story into three equal “stages,” with 12 of the 36 weekly parts devoted to each. The threestage structure reinforces the underlying metaphor of the novel, which casts life as a journey.

As he began work on the novel, Dickens wrote to John Forster that “the book will be written in the first person throughout, and during these first three weekly numbers, you will find the hero to be a boy-child, like David.” Dickens reread Copperfield just to make sure that there were “no unconscious repetitions” of the earlier novel. There are many similarities. Both boys are essentially orphans and both suffer from a feeling of hopelessness as they labor at pasting labels on bottles or working at a forge. Blacksmithing is the later novel’s version of the Blacking Warehouse, for both novels are essentially autobiographical.

The first-person narrator of Great Expectations is more fully identified than the narrator of David Copperfield. Philip Pirrip, a middle-aged businessman who has spent several years in Egypt, tells the story of his earlier life. He also has an ironic perspective and greater awareness of his shortcomings than David, but his growth does not alter his situation. Whatever happens after the novel is over, in the final chapter he is still an outsider.

Expectations is more realistic than its autobiographical predecessor. Written at a time when novels like George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859) were in vogue, Expectations is more restrained stylistically and more consistent in tone than many of the earlier novels. George Gissing (1898) defined its difference from earlier works by comparing Joe Gargery and Daniel Peggotty: “if we compare the two figures as to their ‘reality,’ we must decide in favor of Gargery. I think him a better piece of workmanship all round; the prime reason, however, for his standing out so much more solidly in one’s mind than Little Em’ly’s uncle, is that he lives in a world, not of melodrama, but of everyday cause and effect.”

Although Expectations has no Daniel Peggotty and no Mr. Micawber, it is not lacking humorous scenes or memorable characters. The descriptions of Pip’s Christmas dinner (4), Wopsle’s Hamlet (31), or Wemmick’s wedding (55) are among the great comic scenes in the novels. Its unforgettable characters include the lawyer Jaggers, with his intimidating forefinger, his habit of washing his hands with scented soap, and his conversation by cross-examination; the divided Wemmick, at the office smiling mechanically with his “post-office” mouth as he advises Pip to secure “portable property,” and at home in his castle a loving son who refuses to talk business; and Miss Havisham, the bizarre recluse who lives in a ruined mansion, dressed in the tattered bridal gown that she has worn since she was left standing at the altar many years before. Neither the comic scenes nor the eccentric characters are independent of the story. They are absolutely organic to the plot and theme of the novel.

Great Expectations achieved realism in spite of its status as one of the sensation novels of the 1860s, novels that relied on melodrama, sensational incidents, and surprises to achieve their “special effects.” Dickens advertises these attractions with the title of his story, promising that he will fulfill his readers’ expectations for the sensational. He begins by surprising them—and Pip—in the very first chapter, when Magwitch appears like a ghost in the churchyard, and surprise forms the center of the story, when Magwitch reappears. Even a bizarre character like Miss Havisham expresses the uncanny dimensions of Pip’s illusions, exaggerated to surreal surprise in Pip’s visions of her as the hanging woman.

In Copperfield, David defines himself by establishing his difference from the other characters in his life. Although he sees himself as a victim of others’ cruelty—of Murdstone’s tyranny and neglect, for example—he is more industrious than Pip in pursuing a career and establishing a place for himself in society. David admires Steerforth’s genteel indolence, but he does not adopt it as a way of life. When the tempest comes, he is able to view Steerforth’s body on the beach with only a twinge of regret. He does not consciously connect his own undisciplined heart with Steerforth or link Steerforth’s death to Dora’s. Implicitly, the novel suggests that David survives and is successful because he is not Steerforth.

Pip’s is a more interior story. His expectations make him passive, waiting to discover what others have in store for him. He adopts a life of idleness and is frequently made aware of his connections with Drummle, Orlick, and the convict. He is also more present in the narrative as an older and wiser man judging the mistakes of his past. The stormy night that brings Magwitch to Pip’s door in the Temple forces Pip to acknowledge his connection with the convict, to abandon his illusions, and to reconstruct his life on totally different assumptions. David seems unconscious of the losses and rejections that have been necessary to secure his respectable position as a successful novelist; Pip is painfully aware of what he has left behind or lost, and Great Expectations has a pervasive mood of disillusionment. Joe articulates one of the central themes of the novel when he tells Pip that “life is made of ever so many partings welded together” (27). If David’s story is truer to the outward facts of Dickens’s life, Pip’s may be more revealing of Dickens’s inner autobiography.

The difference is apparent in the opening chapters of the two novels. Copperfield begins with an account of David’s birth; Expectations opens with Pip’s psychological “birth,” when, at age seven or so, he comes to his “first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things.” The setting is bleak: an empty churchyard at dusk on a cold and grey winter day, a “wilderness,” “overgrown with nettles,” where the only distinguishing features are a gibbet and a beacon. A “small bundle of shivers,” Pip is delivered into consciousness by an escaped convict who picks him up, turns him upside down, places him on a tombstone, fills him with fear and terror, and makes him promise to bring food and a file. Every detail in this short chapter simultaneously contributes to the realistic picture of the marsh country on a bleak December evening and to the primal story of Pip’s psychological birth.

Appropriately, this encounter takes place on Christmas Eve, and together the first five chapters of the novel—the first three numbers published in the first three weeks of December 1860—form a kind of Christmas story, similar to the Christmas books that Dickens published in the mid 1840s. It includes Pip’s stealing the Christmas pie from the larder and delivering it to the convict, and a wonderfully humorous Christmas dinner at which the guilty child awaits exposure while the adults at the table lecture him about the ingratitude and natural viciousness of boys. This Christmas story culminates with the pursuit on the marshes, which ends with Pip’s being exonerated by the captured convict, who confesses to stealing the pie himself. Joe states the Christmas theme of the story when he assures the convict, “we don’t know what you have done, but we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creature.—Would us, Pip?” (5).

This Christmas story and its message of empathy and compassion is pushed into the background as Pip goes on to tell the main story of his life, which begins with his introduction to Satis House (8). Although he is occasionally reminded of the odd and terrifying incident in his childhood—by the man who stirs his drink with a file (10), for example—Pip treats the Christmas story as if it were an unusual and bizarre event, part of the story of his life but unconnected with its plot.

Pip divides his life between external reality and interior wishes. The realities include his abuse by Mrs. Joe, who brings him up “by hand”; his apprenticeship to Gargery, the blacksmith, and the likelihood of his becoming Joe’s partner and successor; and his humiliating visits to the decaying Satis House, where he is taunted and abused. His wish is to be a gentleman, and in his fantasies he is Miss Havisham’s heir, chosen to inherit her money and to marry Estella, her adopted daughter. By the time Jaggers announces Pip’s “great expectations” (18), Pip has so internalized these wishes and elaborated their implications in his mind, that he is not surprised. He accepts his elevation to gentility as inevitable and deserved, and he rejects his humble beginnings, the forge, and Joe and represses his memory of the traumatic Christmas on the marshes.

Pip’s wishes so control his consciousness that he is unable to see the truth. Joe appears to him an illiterate country bumpkin, and Pip condescendingly tells Biddy how he will educate Joe and “remove [him] into a higher sphere” (19). Only much later does Pip recognize Joe for the “gentle Christian man” (57) he is. While Pip is unable to see the depths in Joe’s character, he cannot see the surfaces in Miss Havisham’s either. In spite of the decay, ruin, and madness at Satis House and the harsh teaching that makes Estella his tormentor, Pip wishes for the old woman’s riches and hopes to be selected, like Estella, as her protégé. By rejecting Joe’s true gentility and idealizing Miss Havisham’s sham, Pip abandons himself to illusions.

This division indicates Pip’s fractured sense of self. In Wemmick, Pip can observe someone who divides his life into public and private parts, surviving in both worlds by keeping them separate. Pip is unable to do so. He attempts to repress the dark and humble sides of his life, but Orlick and Drummle shadow him, and criminals remind him of the “taint of prison and crime” (32) that seems to cling to him. When he rejects Joe and avoids the forge on his visits to his hometown, Trabb’s boy follows him in the streets and taunts him as a snob with the refrain, “Don’t know yah” (30). In the novel’s psychological parable, many of the characters in the story can be seen as fragments of Pip’s self that he has failed to integrate into a full understanding of who he is.

Herbert Pocket acts as Pip’s foil during his years in London. Although he is not Pip’s equal in strength or expectations, he has a more realistic view of the world. He recognizes Miss Havisham’s madness and Estella’s cruelty, and he has no unwarranted hopes of inheriting Miss Havisham’s money, even though he is related to her. His modest ambition is based on a realistic view of his situation and expectations.

The story reaches its crisis in chapter 39 when Pip, alone in his apartment on a stormy winter evening, is forced in a way to reenact the traumatic Christmas Eve on the marshes. Suddenly the story that seemed merely a curious and disconnected episode in his childhood becomes the defining text for his life. Pip’s surprise mirrors that of the reader, who has also constructed Pip’s rags-to-riches tale as a fairy-tale romance. The convict’s revelation redirects the reader’s expectations in this sensational turn of events in the novel. By making our reading of the story mirror Pip’s self-understanding, Dickens engages our wishes and expectations. The romance that Pip has imagined his life to be is the romance that we wish for him—and for ourselves. But Magwitch’s revelation strips Pip of his wishes and of the fairy-tale scenario he has constructed for himself. In the final stage of his life, Pip must redefine the relationships that he has taken for granted, such as his friendship with Herbert, his business relationship with Jaggers, and, especially, his relationships with Miss Havisham and Estella; he must also come to terms with those parts of himself that he has repressed and rejected—with Drummle, Orlick, Magwitch, and Joe.

In the novel’s psychological theme, Pip’s reconciliation with Joe is linked with his acceptance of Magwitch. They represent two related aspects of the father that have both contributed to Pip’s identity. When he denied his criminal father, he also rejected Joe, the companion with whom he could share “larks.” Pip’s acceptance of Magwitch has several stages: At first Pip hopes to get him out of the country; then he plans to go with him to the continent; after the failed escape attempt, Pip accompanies him back to London, appears beside him in court, and attends him as he dies. Critics debate just how complete Pip’s final acceptance of Magwitch is; his refusal to secure Magwitch’s money seems to indicate that he still believes that he can be free of the taint of Newgate, and his final prayer at Magwitch’s bedside, “O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner!” (56), can be read as the condescending words of a Pharisee. But Pip also publicly acknowledges his connection with Magwitch by holding the convict’s hand as he is sentenced to hang (56). By such acts Pip gives up his great expectations and can be reconciled with Joe. Though he is no longer young enough or innocent enough to share larks with the blacksmith, he can recognize Joe’s true gentility and prepare to start life on his own in Egypt.

Jaggers, the novel’s third father figure, embodies aspects of both Joe and Magwitch and represents a darkly realistic assessment of the human condition. As a criminal lawyer, he knows that the taint of Newgate is pervasive and that darkness and violence define the human psyche. Cynical, secretive, and pessimistic, he has abandoned whatever illusions, or, as he calls them, “poor dreams,” that he may once have had. Nevertheless, he acts in ways to redress injustice and impose order. He “saves” Magwitch’s daughter from abandonment, for example, and controls Molly’s violent strength. Yet his cynical realism, his lack of expectations, makes him a discomfiting and morally ambiguous figure.

Pip’s relationships with the women in his life are, if anything, even more complicated than those with the men. Just as Joe, Magwitch, and Jaggers represent for Pip various aspects of the father, Mrs. Joe, Miss Havisham, Estella, and Biddy represent various aspects of the feminine. Mrs. Joe’s harsh abuse may teach Pip resentment and cause him subconsciously to wish for the blow that Orlick inflicts on her, as Orlick suggests when he is taunting Pip in the sluice house (53). She also has a share in introducing Pip to Miss Havisham and encouraging him to think of the madwoman in white as a potential benefactress, thus prompting both his illusions and his masochism as Pip seeks the pain of his visits to Satis House as exquisite testimony to his desires. Pip may wish that Mrs. Joe and Miss Havisham suffer for the pain they cause him. He is indirectly implicated in both of their deaths and painfully burned while attempting to extinguish the fire that mortally injures Miss Havisham (49). Only Estella survives the suffering that Pip may subconsciously wish for her. At their final meeting she acknowledges a changed understanding of him; “suffering has been stronger than all other teaching,” she tells him, “and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be” (59).

Estella’s statement appears in both versions of the final chapter that Dickens wrote for the novel and would seem to be central to his final thematic point. Dickens changed the original ending after Edward Bulwer Lytton read the proofs and urged him to do so. In the original ending, which is included as an appendix in many editions of the novel, Pip returns to England after eight years in Egypt, and while he is walking with little Pip, Joe and Biddy’s child, on a street in London, he meets Estella, who has married a Shropshire doctor after her unhappy marriage to Drummle. She assumes that the child is Pip’s, and he does not tell her otherwise; then she confides that suffering has changed her. Pip concludes the original ending by remarking, “I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview; for, in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance, that suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.” This tough ending has seemed to many readers more consistent with the tone of the novel than the revised ending. John Forster described it as “more consistent with the drift, as well as natural working out, of the tale.”

Forster does not take note of the imagery in the second ending, however, that makes it, as George Bernard Shaw put it, “artistically much more congruous than the original.” In many ways, Great Expectations is a poetic novel, constructed around recurring images: the desolate landscape of the marshes; twilight; chains binding us to home, the past, and painful memories; fire; hands that manipulate and control; wishes as remote and distant as stars; the river linking past, present, and future. In the second ending, Dickens changed the meeting place from London to Satis House at twilight as evening mists are rising, mists that recall the mists as Pip left for London at the end of stage one, an allusion to the rising mists in Milton’s Paradise Lost as Adam and Eve leave Eden. The imagery in the altered ending, then, seems to suggest a new beginning for Pip and Estella, and many readers consider it a “happy” ending, promising the union of the two lovers. But Dickens’s words are more ambiguous than that. The imagery of rising mists and the broad expanse of light may suggest a new beginning, but Pip only concludes that at that moment, “I saw no shadow of another parting from her.” Even if Pip and Estella remain together, the ending seems to suggest that the human condition, so aptly symbolized in the bleak graveyard of the opening chapter, will remain bleak in the ruined garden that was once Satis House. Shaw, who recognized that the atmosphere that Dickens added to the second ending improved it, nevertheless objected to the happy, marital implication. The perfect ending, he suggested, would consist of a sentence added to the revised ending, “Since that parting I have been able to think of her without the old unhappiness; but I have never tried to see her again, and I know I never shall.” If, as the ambiguity in the final sentence allows, Pip and Estella make a final parting as they leave Satis House, never again to see each other—or part from each other—then the second ending confirms the disillusioning note with which the novel began and is the novel’s final statement of Joe’s theme, that “life is made of ever so many partings welded together.” In either case, the final sentence does not describe a historical fact but rather an expectation: “as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her” (59). This concluding sentence confirms a central truth in the novel, that humans, in spite of all suffering, survive by expectation.


“The Aged P”

Short for the Aged Parent. Wemmick’s father, who lives with his son in the castle at Walworth; “a very old man in a flannel coat: clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but intensely deaf” (25). Wemmick entertains him with the sound of a cannon, which he can hear in spite of his deafness. Wemmick’s kindness and solicitude for the old man exemplify his Walworth persona.


The wife of Bill, a criminal defendant being represented by Jaggers. She is so persistent in pleading with Jaggers for his help that the lawyer threatens to drop her husband as his client if she does not stop bothering him (20).

Barley, Clara

Herbert Pocket’s fiancée, a “pretty, slight, dark-haired girl of twenty or so” (30), who arranges to hide Magwich, under the name of Campbell, in her father’s house until he can be smuggled abroad. “A captive fairy whom that truculent Ogre, Old Barley, had pressed into his service” (46), Clara does not marry Herbert until after her father, who objects to her marrying for fear she will stop taking care of him, has died.

Barley, Old Bill

Clara’s invalid father, a retired ship’s purser who is “totally unequal to the consideration of any subject more psychological than Gout, Rum and Purser’s Stores” (46). He speaks in nautical language, comparing his bedridden situation “lying on the flat of his back” to “a drifting old dead flounder” (46).

Barnard’s Inn

One of the Inns of Cour t , now defunct. Located in Hol bor n, it is “the dingiest collection of buildings ever squeezed together in a rank corner as a club for Tom Cats”; where Herbert Pocket and Pip share rooms when Pip first arrives in London (21).


Wopsle’s great aunt’s granddaughter. An orphan like Pip, she assists in the dame school where Pip receives his earliest education: “her hair always wanted brushing, her hands always wanted washing, and her shoes always wanted mending and pulling up at heel” (7). After Pip’s sister is injured, Biddy comes to look after the Gargery house and Mrs. Joe. She becomes Pip’s close friend and confidante, but Pip does not recognize her love for him and treats her with snobbish condescension (17–19). “She was not beautiful—she was common, and could not be like Estella—but she was pleasant and wholesome and sweet-tempered” (17). She gently reprimands Pip for his condescending treatment of Joe. After losing his fortune, Pip plans to propose to her, but he arrives home to discover that she has just married Joe Gargery (57–58).

Biddy and Joe Gargery define the ideals of simplicity, honesty, and love in the novel. Jerome Meckier (2002) describes her as the true Cinderella figure in the book and contrasts her to Estella and Miss Havisham as false Cinderellas. Blinded by his relationships to these two pretenders, Pip is unable to appreciate Biddy until too late in the novel.


Criminal defended by Jaggers, husband of Amelia (20).

Bill, Black

Inmate of Newgate Prison among Jaggers’s clients visited by Pip and Wemmick on their tour of the prison (32).

Brandley, Mrs.

Society woman with whom Estella stays in Richmond and who sponsors her coming out in London. She has a daughter, Miss Brandley, who is considerably older than Estella. “The mother looked young, and the daughter looked old; the mother’s complexion was pink, and the daughter’s was yellow; the mother set up for frivolity, and the daughter for theology” (38).

Camilla, Mrs.

Matthew Pocket’s sister and one of the parasitic Pocket relatives who gather at Miss Havisham’s, hoping for inclusion in her will (11). She claims that her concern for Miss Havisham keeps her awake at night, so she receives £5 in the will “to buy rushlights to put her in spirits when she wake[s] in the night” (56).


Young shipping broker who is looking for a partner and from whom Pip buys the place for Herbert Pocket (52). After his own loss of expectations, Pip himself joins the firm (58).

Coiler, Mrs.

Neighbor to Matthew and Belinda Pocket, “a widow lady of that highly sympathetic nature that she agreed with everybody, blessed everybody, and shed smiles and tears on everybody, according to circumstances” (23).


Fast-talking forger, swindler, and con man, the arch-villain of the novel. He escapes from the prison ship on the same day as Magwitch and is captured on the marshes as he fights with Magwitch, whose desire for vengeance overcomes his will to escape (5). As Magwitch describes him, “He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he’d been to a public boarding-school and had learning. He was a smooth one to talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks. He was good-looking too” (42). When they are caught, Compeyson uses his boarding-school polish and good looks—in spite of the scar on his face—to cast blame on Magwitch and get himself a lighter sentence, thus prompting Magwitch’s vengeance and desire to create a gentleman of his own. It is Compeyson, in a scheme with Arthur Havisham, who deceives Miss Havisham to secure her money and then jilts her on the day of the wedding. Compeyson learns of Magwitch’s return to England and aids the police in capturing him, though he drowns in the struggle with Magwitch (53–55). He is married to Sally, whom he physically abuses.

Compeyson is central to the plot of the novel, for he has driven Miss Havisham into angry seclusion and inspired Magwitch’s desire for revenge. Scarred on his face, he plays Cain to Magwitch’s Abel, though, in a reversal of the biblical story, he dies in the struggle between them. Self-serving, cruel, with “no more heart than an iron file” (92), Compeyson represents a totally materialistic version of the “gentleman.” Lacking feeling for others and any capacity for friendship, he is wholly defined by money.

Drummle, Bentley (“The Spider”)

Pip’s fellow student at Matthew Pocket’s; from a rich family in Somersetshire, “the next heir but one to a baronetcy” (23), he is “heavy in figure, movement, and comprehension . . . idle, proud, niggardly, reserved, and suspicious” (25). To Jaggers, who cultivates those in the criminal underworld, he seems one of “the true sort” (26), and he names him “the Spider.” Estella marries him for his money, but he beats and abuses her. He is, in turn, kicked and killed by a horse that he has illtreated (58).

Born a gentleman and a member of the aristocracy, Drummle helps articulate the theme that true gentility is not something one is born with. Described by Julian Moynahan (“The Hero’s Guilt: The Case of Great Expectations,” Essays in Criticism, 1960) as “a reduplication of Orlick at a point higher on the social-economic scale,” Drummle expresses the dark, vengeful side of Pip and is contrasted to Startop, the idealist.


During Christmas dinner Pumblechook describes this village butcher’s especially adept method of killing a pig as a good reason for Pip to be glad that he was not born a pig (4).

Essex Street

The street between the Strand and the river where Pip finds lodgings for Magwich (40).


The child provided by Jaggers whom Miss Havisham adopts to be the agent of her vengeance against men. When Pip is recruited as a child to play with her (8), Estella, “beautiful and self-possessed,” taunts and humiliates him, mocking his “coarse hands” and “thick boots.” She inspires Pip’s desire to be “oncommon.” When Pip receives his expectations (18), he believes that Miss Havisham is their source and that she also plans for him to marry Estella. While Pip lives as a gentleman in London, Estella continues to tantalize and torment him (32, 33, 38), though at the same time warning him that she has “no heart, . . . no softness there, no—sympathy—sentiment—nonsense” (29). Proud, cold, and disdainful, she also denies Miss Havisham’s request for love, reminding her, “I am what you have made me” (38). Even after he learns that she is not his intended, Pip remains masochistically devoted to her, and he tells Magwitch, after learning that Estella is his and Molly’s daughter, that he loves her (56). Pip is distressed when she plans to marry Bentley Drummle (44), who abuses her so that she separates from him. In the revised ending that Dickens wrote for the novel (59), Estella meets Pip at the ruins of Satis House, and as they leave “the ruined place,” Pip says that he sees “no shadow of another parting from her.” But in the suppressed original ending, Pip and Estella meet and part on a London street with no suggestion that they will meet again.

Estella’s name, from the Latin for “star,” places her as the remote ideal on which Pip hangs his desires. In many ways her story parallels Pip’s: Both are tainted by Newgate as “children” of Magwitch; both of their lives are manipulated by the expectations of others. We know of Pip’s suffering because he tells his own story, but we know Estella’s story only in Pip’s version and must question its reliability. The two endings, as Hilary Schorpoints out, suggest that Pip and Estella emerge from their ordeals with very different understandings of their relationship. Edmund Wilson’s (1941) suggestion that Ellen Ternan was the inspiration for Estella has been seconded by many later biographers and critics, but Doris Alexander (1991) makes a persuasive case that she was based on Maria Beadnell.

Finches of the Grove

Dining club to which Pip, Herbert Pocket, Drummle, and Startop belong. “The object of which institution I have never divined, if it were not that the members should dine expensively once a fortnight, to quarrel among themselves as much as possible after dinner, and to cause six waiters to get drunk on the stairs” (34).


One of Mrs. Pocket’s nursemaids who cares for the distracted mother’s seven children (22, 23).

Gargery, Georgiana Maria (Mrs. Joe)

Pip’s older sister, “tall and bony” with “such a prevailing redness of skin, that I sometimes used to wonder whether it was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap” (2), she resentfully brings up Pip “by hand” and indulges in “Rampages” at the boy and her husband Joe. With Joe’s Uncle Pumblechook, she arranges Pip’s visitations to Miss Havisham and encourages his false expectations. Her meanness is stilled after she is struck over the head by an unknown assailant (16), a wound that partly paralyzes her, leaves her speechless, makes her much more patient, and leads to her early death (34).

Gargery, Joe

Blacksmith and husband of Pip’s older sister Georgiana: “a fair man, with curls of flaxen hair on each side of his smooth face, and with eyes of such a very undecided blue that they seemed to have somehow got mixed with their own whites. He was a mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow—a sort of Hercules in strength, and also in weakness” (2). “This gentle Christian man” (57) is ruled by his shrewish wife, who makes him and Pip “fellow-sufferers” (2). He befriends Pip as a boy and speaks of the “larks” they will share together as they grow older, “ever the best of friends.” Pip confesses to Joe his lies about Miss Havisham (9), and as Joe’s apprentice he regretfully learns the trade of blacksmith (13). Although Pip is snobbish and condescending to him, Joe remains loyal to Pip (27) and nurses him when he falls ill after Magwitch’s death (57). After his wife’s early death, Biddy takes over Mrs. Joe’s duties as housekeeper and eventually marries Joe (58). They have one son, Pip.

Joe defines the moral message of the novel, representing the ideal of the “gentle Christian man” (57) in contrast to the false ideal of the gentleman that Pip pursues in London. Although he is illiterate and inarticulate, repeating his apologetic “which I meantersay,” he speaks directly and honestly many of the home truths in the novel. Using the language of a blacksmith, he tells Pip that “life is made of ever so many partings welded together,” a theme traced through to the last sentence of the book in images of chains and the motif of life as a journey. Joe’s love and friendship forms one of the chains of gold in Pip’s life, binding the two of them together just as the iron chain from the leg iron symbolically binds Pip to Magwitch.

Havisham, Miss

Eccentric old woman who lives as a recluse in Satis House and who hires Pip to play with her adopted protégée, Estella. “She was dressed in rich materials—satins, and lace, and silks—all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair, but her hair was white. . . . I saw that everything within my view which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow” (8). She retreated into seclusion after being jilted by Compeyson, stopping all the clocks there at 20 minutes before nine, the hour of her betrayal; leaving the wedding feast to decay on the table; and wearing her tattered wedding gown. She is training Estella to carry out her revenge by despising and spurning men. She brings Pip to Satis House as a victim for Estella to practice on (8), and she also uses him to taunt her relatives into thinking him a rival for her money (11). She pays for his apprenticeship (13), leading Pip to believe that she is the source of his great expectations. After he learns otherwise, she asks for his forgiveness and gives him £900 to pay for Herbert’s position at Clarriker’s. Pip rescues her from burning (49), but her injuries prove fatal. She leaves most of her money to Estella (57).

Miss Havisham’s name suggests her contributions to the illusions (have a sham) that Pip harbors and to the guilt (have a shame) that troubles him. Encouraged by his sister and Pumblechook, Pip takes her for the godmother in the fairy-tale version of his life, ignoring the decay and misery at Satis House. Dorothy Van Ghent (1953) describes Estella and Miss Havisham as “not two characters but a single one, or a single essense with dual aspects. . . . For inevitably wrought into the fascinating jewel-likeness of Pip’s great expectations, as represented by Estella, is the falsehood and degeneracy represented by Miss Havisham.”

Many sources have been suggested for Miss Havisham: William Wilkie Collins’s novel The Woman in White (1860) and the White Woman of Dickens’s essay “Where We Stopped Growing” have been proposed by several commentators. Doris Alexander (1991) proposes Dickens’s godmother and great aunt Elizabeth Charlton as his inspiration for both Miss Havisham and David Copperfield’s aunt Betsey Trotwood.


The village in Kent which, along with Chal k, was the original for the village of Joe Gargery and his forge in Great Expectations.

Hubble, Mr. and Mrs.

Friends of the Gargerys who attend Christmas dinner at the blacksmith’s house. Mr. Hubble is the village wheelwright “with his legs extraordinarily wide apart: so that in my short days I always saw some miles of open country between them when I met him coming up the lane” (4). Pip describes his wife as “a little curly sharpedged person in sky-blue, who held a conversationally junior position, because she had married Mr. Hubble . . . when she was younger than he” (4).


The man of all work at the riverside inn where Pip and Magwich stay as Pip attempts to spirit Magwich out of England. His shoes, “taken . . . from the feet of a drowned seaman,” and his certainty about the Custom House officers make his brief appearance in the novel memorable (54) and led Algernon C. Swinburne (1913) to describe him “as great among the greatest of the gods of comic fiction.”


Lawyer with offices in Little Britain who serves both Miss Havisham and Magwitch. “He was a burly man of an exceedingly dark complexion, with an exceedingly large head and a corresponding large hand. . . . His eyes were set very deep in his head, and were disagreeably sharp and suspicious” (11). As a lawyer with an extensive criminal practice, he carries on conversations through crossexamination and questioning. He also has a habit of washing his hands frequently with scented soap. Pip first meets him at Miss Havisham’s house (11). Later, Jaggers announces to Pip his great expectations (18) and represents Pip’s secret benefactor. After successfully defending Molly, Estella’s mother, on a murder charge, he hired her as his maid. He explains his decision to place Estella in the care of Miss Havisham as a way of saving at least one child from a life in the criminal underworld (51). Jaggers is wholly defined by his professional life. Unlike Wemmick, he has no private domestic world separate from the office. A bully with his clients, Jaggers avoids knowing the truth about their crimes. He adopts an intimidating and aloof manner to control every situation and escape being tainted by the evil he manipulates daily.

The ambivalences in Jaggers’s character provoke contradictory responses to him. Nicholas Bentley, Michael Slater, and Nina Burgis (1988), for example, describe him as “a humane man made cynical by his professional experience”; Bert G. Hornback (1987) characterizes him as “a sinister and intellectually selfish man.” Lazarus, Abraham Thief whom Jaggers is engaged to prosecute for stealing a plate; his brother tries unsuccessfully to bribe Jaggers to represent him (20). Little Britain Street in the Cit y where Jaggers’s office is located (20).

Magwitch, Abel (a.k.a. Provis and Campbell)

Unnamed escaped convict for whom Pip steals the Christmas pie from his sister’s larder (2): “a fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped and shivered; glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered in his head” (1). He is recaptured on Christmas Day with Compeyson, another escapee who is Magwitch’s former accomplice and now his enemy (5). Out of gratitude to the boy and a desire to get even with the gentlemen who imprisoned him, Magwitch, who has been transported to Australia for life, secretly uses his earnings as a sheep farmer to provide Pip’s great expectations. When he illegally returns to England to see his gentleman, he surprises Pip and repels him with his commonness and his claim to be Pip’s “second father” (39). While Pip makes plans to smuggle him out of England, he takes the aliases Provis and Campbell and tells Pip the story of his life (42), of his entanglement with Compeyson, of his relationship with Molly, and of their daughter, who turns out to be Estella. He is arrested during Pip’s abortive attempt to escape with him to the continent (54). Sentenced to hang, he dies in the prison hospital before the sentence can be carried out (56).

In the novel’s inversion of the Cinderella story, Magwitch, whose name suggests magic and witchery, is the dark fairy godmother, or, as J. Hillis Miller (1958) describes him, “a nightmare permutation of Mr. Brownlow and Mr. Jarndyce,” the benefactors in Oliver Twist and Bleak House. Magwitch’s harsh treatment and hardships as a child have led to his criminality, just as Pip’s mistreatment by Mrs. Joe has left him with a guilty conscience and a self-image as naturally vicious. The similarities between the lonely, shivering man and the orphaned, shivering boy in the opening chapter establish the identification between Magwitch and Pip. Magwitch’s crass assumption that money can make a gentleman embodies Dickens’s criticism of the money society that fails to appreciate the true gentility of a common man like Joe Gargery. Mary Anne Wemmick’s “neat little” maidservant (25). Mike “Gentleman with one eye, in a velveteen suit and knee-breeches” who is one of Jaggers’s clients (20). Millers One of Belinda Pocket’s nursemaids (22).


Jaggers’s maid, “a woman of about forty . . . [whose] face looked to me as if it were all disturbed by fiery air, like the faces I had seen rise out of the Witches’ caldron [in Macbeth]” (26). Jaggers had successfully defended her in a murder case and then taken her as his maid. She is very strong and has deeply scarred wrists. Jaggers relishes his control over this powerful woman, whom Wemmick describes as “a wild beast tamed” (24). After Pip notices a likeness between Molly’s hands and Estella’s, he confirms that Molly is Estella’s mother (48).

Orlick, Dolge

Joe Gargery’s journeyman blacksmith, “a broad-shouldered loose-limbed swarthy fellow of great strength, never in a hurry, and always slouching” (15). He holds grudges against Pip, whom he thinks Joe favors, and against Mrs. Joe, who has called him a fool and a rogue. He secretly attacks and maims her (16), and these injuries lead to her early death (35). When Miss Havisham hires him as a porter, Pip has him dismissed (29–30). Finally, he falls in with Compeyson and plots to murder Pip by luring him to the limekiln on the marshes, a scheme foiled by Herbert Pocket, Startop, and Trabb’s Boy (53).

While the evil machinations of Compeyson and Drummle are explained in the plot of the novel, Orlick’s attempts to destroy Pip are more mysterious. He appears as a kind of evil alter ego to Pip, expressing the resentment or violence that Pip suppresses. Like Pip, he seems to have named himself, for the narrator tells us that the name Dolge is a “clear impossibility” (15). His first role is as the “idle apprentice” in contrast to Pip’s “industrious apprentice,” a traditional folk-story motif that is developed in George Lillo’s play, The London Merchant (1731), with which Wopsle taunts Pip (15). In this role, Orlick fights with Joe and maims Mrs. Joe. He shadows Pip and Biddy, an apparent rival for Biddy’s attentions, and later becomes the doorkeeper to Satis House, symbolically blocking Pip’s access to Estella, his presence there a reminder to Pip of his unsuitability as a former blacksmith’s apprentice. Orlick makes explicit his role representing Pip’s suppressed anger at the limekiln, when he admits to killing Mrs. Joe but blames Pip: “But it warn’t old Orlick as did it. You was favoured, and he was bullied and beat. . . . You done it” (53). In a more comic vein, his treatment of Pumblechook—“tied him up to his bedpost, and . . . stuffed his mouth full of flowering annuals” (57)—also carries out Pip’s desire for revenge on this hypocritical relative. In light of all his crimes, Orlick’s punishment—imprisonment in the county jail—seems unusually indulgent.

Pepper (“The Avenger”)

Pip’s servant boy. “I had even started a boy in boots—top boots—in bondage and slavery to whom I might be said to pass my days. For, after I had made this monster (out of the refuse of my washerwoman’s family) and had clothed him with a blue coat, canary waistcoat, white cravat, creamy breeches, and the boots already mentioned, I had to find him a little to do and a great deal to eat” (27).


Name by which Philip Pirrip Jr. is generally known. His “infant tongue” could make of his given name “nothing longer or more explicit than Pip” (1). His benefactor later makes keeping the name a condition for receiving his great expectations (18). It is a name Pip gives himself, suggesting his orphan status and the necessity to make his own way in the world. The name also suggests that Pip is a “seed” or a “hatchling.”

Pirrip, Philip, Jr. (Pip)

Narrator and protagonist of Great Expectations. He is the orphan son of Philip Sr. and Georgiana, who are buried in the local churchyard with five of their children, Alexander, Bartholomew, Abraham, Tobias, and Roger. Pip is raised by his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery. Pip’s story begins on a Christmas Eve when he is about seven and befriends an escaped convict by stealing for him some food from his sister’s larder and a file from the forge (3). Pip assumes that this episode was simply something unusual that happened to him, and he represses his memory of the convict and his sense of identification with him. Sometime later he is taken to play with Estella, rich Miss Havisham’s ward, who scorns him, makes him discontented with his common life and prospects, and inspires his hopeless adoration (8). While he serves his apprenticeship to his brother-in-law the blacksmith, Pip wishes for a better life, a wish that seems to come true when he is notified that he is the recipient of “great expectations” (18). His unnamed benefactor—assumed by Pip to be Miss Havisham—supports his life as an idle gentleman in London. Pip also assumes that Miss Havisham has chosen him to marry Estella. When his benefactor reveals his identity several years later, he turns out to be Abel Magwitch, the convict Pip befriended as a child (38). At first Pip is repelled, but as he plans Magwitch’s escape from London and then witnesses his arrest, trial, and death, he realizes the shallowness of his expectations and the value of the life he rejected when he left Joe and the forge and went to the city. By the time of Magwitch’s death, Pip has learned to love the convict who gave so much of himself to advance Pip’s fortunes. In the end, Pip gives up Magwitch’s money, works for his living, and is reconciled with Joe (59).

Pip’s character is complicated by the fact that there are at least two Pips—Pip the narrator and Pip the character at the center of the story. Although the narrator does not reveal a great deal about his present life, we do know that he is a moderately successful, middle-aged businessman who has spent several years in Egypt. His ability to laugh at some of his earlier foolishness and to achieve ironic distance on his mistakes, as well as his occasional comments on his former short-sightedness, suggests that the narrator has become wiser and has realized the emptiness of his former expectations and the value of the forge. There are also, however, several reasons to conclude that Pip may not have learned as much as he thinks he has. His confession to the dying Magwitch that he loves Estella (56), his prayer identifying the convict and not himself as the sinner in need of mercy (56), and his final sentence in the novel, in which he still harbors expectations (59), suggest that Pip may not have overcome his condescension and his habit of “expecting.” These ambivalences in the narration seem to indicate that Philip Pirrip cannot be taken as a wholly reliable narrator.

The ambivalences also reveal a tension in the novel between the conventional Bildungsroman, in which Pip grows and learns of his mistaken values, and a satiric novel in which Pip fails to overcome his illusions. The ambiguities in the ending, especially the revised ending that Dickens chose at the urging of Edward Bulwer Lytton, and the shifting point of view that moves between that of Philip Pirrip the middle-aged businessman and that of the younger Pip present a multifaceted character developed with psychological complexity who has both strengths and weaknesses.

The psychological portrait of Pip, nicely analyzed by Bernard J. Paris in Imagined Human Beings (1997), presents a guilt ridden, imaginative boy who harbors suppressed anger, especially toward his sister. The events of his childhood—his orphanhood, his association with criminals, his mistreatment by Mrs. Joe—make him secretive and susceptible to Miss Havisham’s illusions and Estella’s humiliations. By suppressing his guilt and projecting his violent anger onto characters like Orlick and Drummle, Pip is able to maintain the illusion that he is worthy of his elevation to the status of young gentleman. But he is not able, like Wemmick, to keep the two sides of his bifurcated character separated, and he is frequently troubled by reminders of criminality, guilt, and violence. His acceptance of Magwitch and his rejection of Magwitch’s money suggest that he finally comes to terms with this separation and integrates disparate parts of himself, but he does not seem fully able to achieve psychological wholeness. He still has not come to terms with his feelings about Estella. In the original ending, his satisfaction in Estella’s suffering and in her mistaken assumption that young Pip is his child suggests that he has not overcome his resentment at her earlier humiliations. The revised ending implies that Pip still harbors expectations that involve Estella, however one reads the ambiguities in the final sentences of the novel. In both endings the voice is that of a chastened middle-aged bachelor, still a lonely outsider and a psychological orphan.

Pocket, Belinda

Matthew’s wife, a knight’s daughter, “had grown up highly ornamental, but perfectly helpless and useless” (23). She is so obsessed with social position that she pays no attention to housekeeping or to her young children Alick, Jane, Charlotte, Fanny, Joe, and an unnamed baby, who “tumble” in the care of two neglectful nursemaids. Doris Alexander (1991) suggests that she was based on Catherine Hogarth Dickens.

Pocket, Herbert

Pip’s roommate at Barnard’s Inn after Pip comes into his expectations. Son of Matthew Pocket, Herbert is the “pale young gentleman” who fought with Pip over Estella (11). He has “a frank and easy way” and “a natural incapacity to do anything secret and mean” (22). He names Pip “Handel,” reflecting Pip’s background as a blacksmith and celebrating their harmonious relationship, and he instructs Pip in manners (22). He helps Pip hide Magwitch and plan the escape. Pip secretly secures a position for Herbert with Clarriker’s (37). Herbert marries Clara Barley after a long engagement, manages the Cairo office for the firm, and hires Pip as his clerk there (58).

Pocket, Matthew

Miss Havisham’s cousin, Herbert’s father, and Pip’s tutor when he comes to London to become a gentleman. A graduate of Harrow and Cambridge, he was “a young-looking man, in spite of his perplexities and his very grey hair, and his manner seemed quite natural. I use the word natural, in the sense of its being unaffected; there was something comic in his distraught way, as though it would have been downright ludicrous but for his own perception that it was very near being so” (23). He is kind and unselfish but feckless and impractical, and he has a habit of pulling his hair as a sign of frustration. He is the only one of Miss Havisham’s relatives who speaks honestly to her, so he has been banished from her presence. Pip later tells Miss Havisham of Matthew’s good character, and she leaves Matthew £4000 in her will (59).

Pumblechook, Uncle

Joe Gargery’s uncle, a prosperous and hypocritical corn chandler and seed merchant: “a large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked” (4). He arranges Pip’s initial meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella (7) and subsequently takes credit for being the founder of Pip’s great expectations (19), toadying to Pip’s new-found wealth. But when Pip loses his prospects, Pumblechook treats him with patronizing pity, suggesting that Pip’s downfall is a result of his ingratitude to him, his “earliest benefactor” (58). He receives his comeuppance when Orlick breaks into his house, ties him to a bedpost, and stuffs his mouth full of flowers (57).

As a seed merchant, Pumblechook is responsible for selling Pip (a seed) to Miss Havisham and introducing him to the materialistic illusions that she fosters. Doris Alexander (1991) connects Pumblechook with John Willett in Barnaby Rudge and suggests that both characters are based on John Porter Leigh, the father of Mary Ann Leigh.

Wemmick, John, Jr.

Jaggers’s clerk, “a dry man, rather short in stature, with a square wooden face, whose expression seemed to have been imperfectly chipped out with a dull-edged chisel. . . . He wore at least four mourning rings . . . [and] several rings and seals hung at his watch chain, as if he were quite laden with remembrances of departed friends” (21). These items of “portable property” are gifts from the firm’s executed former clients. With his “post office of a mouth,” Wemmick hides his feelings behind a mechanical smile as he advises Pip repeatedly to value “portable property.” At his home in Walworth, Wemmick has a personal life that he keeps totally separated from his business life. There he cares for his deaf and aged father in a castle complete with a moat and a cannon (25) and courts Miss Skiffins, his fiancée whom he marries in a wonderfully comic ceremony (55). He aids Pip in secretly setting up Herbert Pocket in business (37), warns him of Compeyson (45), and aids him in planning Magwitch’s escape (48).

Wemmick’s response to the corruption of the world is to live two separate lives, a solution he recommends to Pip. But Pip is unable to hide or deny Magwitch’s presence and importance in his life. When Pip sits by Magwitch holding his hand at the trial and when he makes no attempt to secure Magwitch’s money, he implicitly rejects Wemmick’s “split personality” solution and follows the example of Joe, who refuses to take money for releasing Pip to Jaggers. Although Wemmick does much to aid Pip, especially in the attempt to get Magwitch to the Continent, he is, as Bert G. Hornback (1987) points out, “finally corrupted by his preference for money.” Whimple, Mrs. Landlady of the house where old Bill Barley and his daughter lodge and where Magwitch hides (46).


Parish clerk and friend of the Gargerys, he unites “a Roman nose, . . . a large shining bald forehead, . . . [and] a deep voice which he was uncommonly proud of” (4). He aspires to enter the church, but he ends up in the theater where he takes the stage name of Waldengarver. Pip sees him perform Hamlet in an obscure London theater (31), and later, when he has been reduced to playing miscellaneous bit parts, Pip sees him at an even more obscure venue along the river (47). Wopsle’s desires to escape his provincial origins and seek success in the theater in London act as a comic parody of Pip’s similar pretensions to gentility.

The criticism on Great Expectations is voluminous. Several collections bring together significant critical essays on the novel: Richard Lettis and W. E. Morris, Assessing Great Expectations (1960), includes Dorothy Van Ghent’s (1953) classic discussion of the novel’s modes of characterization and Julian Moynahan’s “The Hero’s Guilt: the Case of Great Expectations” (Essays in Criticism, 1960), a psychological analysis of Pip and his doubles. Edgar Rosenberg’s (1999) authoritative edition supplements its carefully established text and thorough explanatory footnotes with a selection of critical essays, among them Peter Brooks’s (1984) Freudian analysis of the plot, “Repetition, Repression, and Returns: The Plotting of Great Expectations.” Janice Carlisle’s (1996) edition also includes Brooks’s essay, as well as others illustrating several contemporary approaches to the novel. Of particular interest among them is Hilary Schor’s feminist reading, “ ‘If He Should Turn to and Beat Her’: Violence, Desire, and the Woman’s Story in Great Expectations.” Harold Bloom’s (2000) volume in the Modern Critical Interpretations series is a good selection of recent essays. The autobiographical roots of the story are discussed by Ada Nisbet in “The Autobiographical Matrix of Great Expectations” (Victorian Newsletter, 1959). F. R. Leavis and Q. D. Leavis (1970) provide a close reading of the novel as an example of psychological realism. Many commentators write on Pip as narrator, including Robert B. Partlow, “The Moving I: A Study of Point of View in Great Expectations” (College English, 1961), Robert E. Garis (1965), and Steven Connor (1985). Beth Herst (The Dickens Hero: Selfhood and Alienation in the Dickens World, 1990) discusses Pip as an example of the alienated hero in Dickens’s later novels. Three book-length discussions of the novel are especially noteworthy: Bert G. Hornback (1987) and Anny Sadrin (1988) provide extended critical introductions to the novel; Jerome Meckier (2002) considers the novel in comparison to other works of Victorian fiction.

Great Expectations was first published as a serial in Al the Year Round and, consistent with the format of that magazine, was unillustrated. Some critics, most notably F. R. Leavis and Q. D. Leavis (1970), have suggested that the realism of the novel made illustrations—especially caricatures in the manner of Hablot Knight Browne—inappropriate. However, there have been many successfully illustrated later editions of the novel. The first American edition—the serial published in Harper’s Weekly—was illustrated by John McLenan. Since it was printed from advance proofs sent from England and appeared a week before the English serial, this edition could be said to be the first edition of the novel. Dickens had Marcus Stone illustrate the Library Edition of the novel in 1862. Especially noteworthy among later illustrators of the novel are F. W. Pailthorpe (1885), Harry Furniss (1910), and Gordon Ross (1937).
Source: Davis, P. (2007). Critical companion to Charles Dickens. New York: Facts On File.

Categories: Literature, Novel Analysis

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