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Free Study Guide for Great Expectations by Charles Dickens-Book Summary

 

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ONLINE STUDY GUIDE - GREAT EXPECTATIONS


CHAPTER 38


Summary

Pip accompanies Estella on a visit to Satis house. Much to Pip’s surprise, Miss Havisham and Estella quarrel. Miss Havisham is troubled by Estella’s lack of devotion toward her, but Estella retorts that Miss Havisham has made her cold and unfeeling. Pip knows Estella has been trained to break his heart, but he feels compelled to continue in his obsessive admiration of her.

Pip and Drummle are members of a prestigious and snobbish men’s club called “The Finches of the Grove.” In one meeting, much to Pip’s horror and outrage, Drummle, the Spider, proposes a toast to Estella. The two fight and Drummle shows Pip Estella’s note confirming her favors for him. Pip is devastated.


Notes

The meeting between Miss. Havisham and Estella is crucially important. Miss Havisham has obsessively raised Estella to wreak havoc in the lives of men. She has trained her beautiful young charge to toy with and destroy men by making them love her with no hope of reciprocation. But Miss Havisham makes a mistake when she asks that Estella love her. Miss Havisham becomes the victim of the sharp weapon that she has created to hurt others. Estella is brought up without love and Miss Havisham’s demand for love can never be met.

Pip is close to realizing his dreams are futile when he sees Drummle, of all men, proposing a toast to Estella. What is worse is that Estella encourages this. Pip and Estella have a conversation in which she warns him that she is out to entrap and deceive men, and does not mind doing so to Drummle. She tells Pip she has never victimized him because he does not understand the way things are. He is naïve. Estella confesses that Pip is the only man whom she has not tried to injure and deceive. Ironically, he is most injured of all, despite her warnings.


CHAPTER 39



Summary

Pip is twenty-three when “his convict” visits him. The man is old and gray, and at first Pip fails to recognize him as the man for whom he furnished food and file so many years ago. The man greets Pip with open arms, but it is not until he produces the file that Pip realizes his identity. The man tells Pip that he has done quite well for himself, and Pip tries to hurry him off by repaying him the two one-pound notes given to him in The Jolly Bargemen. The man burns them and reveals himself as Pip’s benefactor. Oblivious to the shock and repulsion his announcement causes in Pip, the man says he is hiding from his death sentence and asks for help.

Pip is consumed by shock, horror, disappointment, and, finally, shame; he realizes how he has been betrayed and how he has betrayed others. At the close of this chapter, Dickens proclaims “THIS IS THE END OF THE SECOND STAGE OF PIP’S EXPECTATIONS.”


Notes

This chapter can be considered as the climax of the novel. Pip, who has always believed Miss Havisham to be his provider, receives the rudest shock of his life. He realizes that not only has he embarrassed himself by fawning in gratitude for the old lady, he has been tricked by her encouragement to do so. He knows with certainty now that she has not set him aside to marry Estella; she has toyed with him as she does all men.

Fortunately, the convict is so full of love for Pip he fails to notice the horrible effect his announcement has on the boy. While Pip is regretting everything about that meeting long ago, the convict is expecting a grateful reception and shelter from the storm and from death.

The irony that forms the base of the plot of Great Expectations is here played out in its entirety. Pip, with his soaring expectations, has become a gentleman and has been allowed to take part in the world of snobbery and false pride. He now realizes that his great ascent has been tainted by criminal fortunes of less than respectable characters. The fountainhead of his good fortune is a man who makes a complete mockery of his gentlemanly pretensions by being a criminal sentenced to death.

As the second of three stages in Pip’s development, this one is characterized by the weight of responsibility placed on Pip. How he reacts to this news and the new expectations he forms will shape the rest of his destiny.


CHAPTERS 40 - 42


Summary

Pip goes to Jaggers to confirm the name of his patron without revealing his visitor. Jaggers confirms it to be Abel Magwitch, the convict. Jaggers tells Pip he has never encouraged him to think it was Miss Havisham. Pip sees someone outside his door and realizes Magwitch might be in danger. So he finds him a place to live nearby and provides him with new clothes. He tells the servants that Magwitch is his uncle Provis.

When Herbert returns, Pip takes him into his confidence and reveals the identity of his “Uncle.” He tells Herbert he will not accept anything else from Magwitch. Further, he says they need to move Magwitch away from London to a safe place.

Magwitch tells them about his past, beginning with the fact that he does not know anything about his parents. He spent a lot of time in and out of jail. He associated himself with a man called Compeyson and began working for him, stealing, forging, and defrauding people. They were both tried for felonies, but since Compeyson looked the part of a gentleman, he got a lesser sentence. Herbert helps Pip put the facts together and deduce that Compeyson was Miss Havisham’s cheating fiancée long ago. Magwitch and Compeyson are sworn enemies. Compeyson is probably in London as well, posing an immediate threat.


Notes

For the first time, the convict is given a name--Abel Magwitch. Till now, he has been a two-dimensional figure in the novel known only as Pip’s “convict,” but Dickens humanizes him by giving him a name when he comes into Pip’s life directly. Here Magwitch is also given human emotions in striking contrast to his brutal animalistic qualities from years past. Here he is proud, thankful, and happy; in the past he was angry and menacing.

A lot of exposition takes place that paves the way for even more revelations. Of significance is the mention of Magwitch’s wife. She is not named, or even explained, but her existence is a clue to the great unfolding mystery that binds the novel together.


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