Great Expectations is a novel about a poor boy named Pip, who lives with his cruel sister and her blacksmith husband. After years of helping a wealthy reclusive woman named Miss Havisham, he receives a small fortune from an anonymous benefactor. After learning to live like a gentleman and many attempts to court Miss Havisham's daughter, Estella, Pip learns that his fortune was not from Miss Havisham, as he had assumed, but a convict he had helped save when he was a child.
Pip visits Miss Havisham on her birthday, when she has company. Estella continues to torment Pip with her beauty and cold-hearted condescension. Pip swears that he will never cry for her again, though he senses that this is not true. Pip encounters a strange man on the stairs of Satis House, as he ascends to see Miss Havisham. The man questions his intentions and treats him gruffly. In the garden, Pip gets into a fistfight with a young gentleman and wins. Afterward, Estella beckons Pip to give her a kiss on the cheek before he departs.
Pip returns to see Miss Havisham, per her request, as planned. As before, Estella unlocks the gate for Pip and leads him through the dark rooms of Satis House. Their destination is a gloomy room where Miss Havisham is entertaining company, including Sarah Pocket. The guests have come to visit Miss Havisham on her birthday. Estella commands that Pip stand by the window, and, submissively, he obeys.
When they are alone, Estella interrogates Pip. She asks him if he thinks she is pretty, to which he replies in the affirmative. When, subsequently, she asks him if he finds her insulting, Pip answers that she is not quite as much as on his last visit, and she slaps him. Cruelly, she urges him to cry, but Pip replies that he shall never cry for her again, as he did on his last visit. He is aware, however, that this statement will probably not hold true.
As Pip ascends the stairs, on his way to see Miss Havisham, he encounters a burly, brooding man who questions his intentions and speaks to him harshly. Pip and Estella again play cards, but this time Estella does not deign to speak to him. Afterward, they go to the garden, where they encounter a pale young man who confronts Pip and challenges him to a fight. Pip overpowers the young man and gives him a black eye; he is surprised by his own strength. Coyly, Estella pretends she has not seen the fight, and beckons Pip to kiss her on the cheek.
Pip is terrified that he will be severely punished for his fight with the young gentleman in the garden of Satis House, but on his next visit, Miss Havisham does not mention the incident. Miss Havisham encourages Estella's cruel treatment of Pip, and delights in seeing the boy ensnared by Estella's cold beauty. Pip grows more distant from his family, deeply aware that they are of a low social standing, and confides his feelings in Biddy . Miss Havisham requests that Pip bring Joe along on his next visit to her, so that she may help officiate his apprenticeship to Joe. This turn of events shatters Pip's long-standing hope that Miss Havisham would make him into an educated, wealthy gentleman.
Pip is plagued by the memory of his fight with the pale gentleman in the garden of Satis House, and worries that he will be punished for his violent actions. Despite Pip's overwhelming terror, he returns to see Miss Havisham. To his relief, she makes no mention of the battle. Pip pays routine visits to Miss Havisham in the months that follow, and though she is more talkative with him, she pays him nothing, but for his dinner. Pip is ever hopeful that his visits to Miss Havisham will help raise his social standing, though he notes that Miss Havisham seems to prefer him as an ignorant boy, rather than a learned gentleman. Estella continues to torment Pip with her irresistible beauty and cold heart, behavior Miss Havisham encourages. Strangely, she seems to enjoy watching Pip grow more enchanted by Estella's icy allure.
With each visit to Satis House, Pip becomes more aware of the social divisions between Estella and his own family. He thus distances himself from Joe, his former confidant, because he is merely a common blacksmith, and instead confides in Biddy. On one of Pip's visits to Satis House, Miss Havisham requests that he bring Joe with him the next time he comes, and offers to help officiate Pip's apprenticeship to Joe. It is then Pip realizes that it was never Miss Havisham's intent to make him a gentleman, as he had so long hoped.
Joe is noticeably out of place at Satis House. He is uncomfortable throughout his meeting with Miss Havisham, and talks to Pip instead of directly to her. Pip is ashamed of Joe's rough manners and indelicate behavior. Miss Havisham gives Pip twenty-five pounds for his services, and officiates his apprenticeship to Joe. Pip and Joe confirm the apprenticeship at Town Hall, then eat a celebratory dinner with Mrs. Joe , Mr. Wopsle , and Pumblechook . Everyone is in high spirits but for Pip, who is convinced that he will loathe the life of a blacksmith, the life that has been proscribed for him.
Joe dresses in his best Sunday clothes to accompany Pip to see Miss Havisham, though Pip notes that he looks better in his blacksmith apron and work clothes. However kind, Joe does not posses the genteel manners of the wealthy, and is clearly uncomfortable at Satis House, and Pip feels ashamed of him. When Estella sees Pip and Joe, she laughs at them. Throughout his meeting with Miss Havisham, who has offered to help officiate Pip's apprenticeship to Joe, Joe cannot bring himself to speak directly to Miss Havisham. Instead, he speaks to Pip. Miss Havisham gives Pip twenty-five pounds for his services to her, which Pip must later entrust to his sister, Mrs. Joe.
Pip and Joe go to Town Hall to officiate the apprenticeship, and go out to dinner afterward with Mrs. Joe, Pumblechook, and Mr. Wopsle. Everyone is in high spirits but for Pip, who is devastated by his unexpected fate. He goes to bed seething with anger and disappointment, assured he will forever loathe the life of a blacksmith.
In this section of the novel, Pip's great expectations are developed and disappointed. It is also emphasized that, at some point in her youth, Miss Havisham's hopes were also thwarted, leaving her crazed and embittered. Pip views Miss Havisham as an embodiment of death, referring to her as a skeletal, ghostly figure, and hallucinating a vision of her body hanging from the rafters of the brewery. It seems that Miss Havisham's life stopped as did her clocks at the moment her heart was broken. Miss Havisham's wedding dress, though she has never worn it, has faded from pure white to yellow, symbolic of her tarnished hopes and broken heart.
Although the cause of her heartbreak is not yet clear, there is evidence enough to conclude that Miss Havisham, having been crippled by heartache, has raised Estella to seek revenge on men, urging her to break their hearts. Thus, Miss Havisham delights in seeing Pip so enchanted by Estella, though the girl treats him with nothing more than cool condescension.
As Pip grows, so do his expectations for greatness. Estella's criticisms of his commonness intensify his awareness of social class, and urge his aspirations to make himself worthy of her. Thus, he solicits Biddy's assistance for extra lessons not out of a pure desire for knowledge, but because he desires to improve himself, for Estella's sake. He knows he must adopt the intellect and manners of the aristocracy if his expectations are to be realized. Pip wants nothing more than to become a gentleman, and to be loved by Estella, and he is certain that Miss Havisham will help his expectations to come true.
Pip experiences his first great disappointment of his romantic expectations, however, when Miss Havisham offers to help officiate Pip's apprenticeship to Joe. It is then he realizes that the old woman never intended to transform him from a common boy into a gentleman, but that her only purpose was to use Pip as a toy for her and Estella, in Miss Havisham's mission to spite men in the wake of her heartache.
Now that Pip has tasted the greatness he so desires, having experienced luxury at Miss Havisham's, he demeans Joe's trade as insignificant and common, and thinks himself superior to it. Pip is devastated by his fate as Joe's apprentice, and is surprised by it, though it could only have been expected, had he considered his future logically, and without hope and romance. Pip does not want to be doomed to commonality, and, given his fierce resistance to the trade and ambition for status, it is almost certain that he will not remain a blacksmith's apprentice for long.
Pip is blinded by his ambition for wealth and status, and can no longer see Joe's innate goodness and honesty. He does not find Joe an admirable man, but instead looks down on him for his simplicity. Considering Joe, Pip does not see a kind, honest man, but a simple, uneducated pauper, of whom he is ashamed. Pip's mortification is evident when Joe accompanies him to Miss Havisham's house to draw up the papers for his apprenticeship. Pip is embarrassed by Joe's coarse manners, inarticulate speech, and shoddy clothing, and feels ashamed of him. Pip's shame of Joe and his low status cause him to treat Joe unkindly. Pip is angered and aggravated by the situation, fearing his association with the poor blacksmith will hamper his own quest for social advancement and self-improvement.