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.
At the pub, Pip and Joe are approached by a stranger, who identifies himself as a Jaggers , a lawyer, who Pip recognizes as the man on the stairs at Satis House. Jaggers reveals that Pip will soon inherit a generous fortune, left to him by a secret benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous. Pip will go to London immediately to begin his education as a gentleman. Matthew Pocket , Miss Havisham's cousin, will serve as his tutor. Given these associations, Pip surmises that Miss Havisham is his secret benefactor. Joe is clearly saddened by Pip's impending departure. Pip, however, is elated that his dream of becoming a gentleman will at last be realized, and treats his common family with pompous disdain.
Pip, now in his fourth year as Joe's apprentice, sits in the local pub with Joe and a group of other men, listening to Mr. Wopsle read aloud from the newspaper. Wopsle reads a story about a sensational murder trial, and is approached by an authoritative stranger who questions him about the legal intricacies of the case. Pip realizes that the stranger is the same man who stopped to question him on the stairs at Satis House, when he visited Miss Havisham on her birthday (Chapter 11). The man reveals that he is a lawyer by the name of Jaggers, and that he has come looking for Pip. Jaggers divulges that Pip will soon inherit a handsome fortune, provided by a secret benefactor who wishes to remain unknown. Further, Jaggers informs Pip that he will move to London and begin his gentleman's education with a tutor, Mr. Matthew Pocket, who is Miss Havisham's cousin. Jaggers explains that Pip must keep his own name, and that the agreement is binding.
Pip surmises that Miss Havisham must be his secret benefactor, as he had seen Jaggers at her home, and since Matthew Pocket is her relative. Pip is elated that his dream of becoming a gentleman will be realized. Joe, however, is visibly saddened that he will lose Pip as his apprentice. Jaggers offers Joe money as compensation for his loss, but Joe proudly refuses it. That evening, Pip overhears Joe and Biddy discussing Pip's impending departure and notes their sadness. Although he, too, is sad to be leaving them, he is inflated by his sudden good fortune, and again feels that he is superior to their common existence.
Pip, inflated by his sudden good fortune, gets into a disagreement with Biddy over Joe's common trade. Biddy defends Joe's respectability, but Pip fails to see how Joe could be proud of his menial existence. Pip goes to the tailor to be fitted for new, gentlemanly clothes. When he reveals that he has inherited a fortune, the tailor becomes servile, treating Pip as a prince. Even Pumblechook grovels to Pip, now that the boy has inherited a fortune. Pumblechook takes Pip out to dinner and, for the first time, treats him with respect. Pip visits Miss Havisham before his departure, and leaves further convinced that she is his secret benefactor, given her knowledge of his newfound circumstance. He says a sorrowful farewell to Joe and Biddy, and feels badly for treating those who love him most with such haughty disdain.
In the morning, Pip is feeling proud and pompous. After breakfast, Joe burns the papers that indenture Pip as his apprentice. On one of his final mornings at home, Pip awakes to find Joe at his bedside, watching over him affectionately. Later, Pip speaks with Biddy, and mentions Joe's commonness. Biddy defends Joe's goodness and respectability, but Pip, in his haughtiness, cannot see her point that Joe may take great pride in his work. They end their disagreement on bad terms.
Pip goes to the tailor to be fitted for new, gentlemanly attire. He boasts that he has just come into a handsome inheritance, which motivates the tailor to treat him as a prince, searching frantically for the best fabrics. Pumblechook takes Pip to dinner to celebrate his newfound fortune, and, uncharacteristically, treats Pip with the utmost respect, even asking his permission to call him friend. He reveals that he had always known that Pip was no common boy.
Pip visits Miss Havisham before his departure to London, and leaves further convinced that she is his secret benefactor. She is delighted by his news, and seems informed of his circumstances. Biddy and Joe bid a sorrowful farewell to Pip the next morning, as he leaves for London. Pip is filled with sadness and hope as he departs, suddenly realizing his deep love for his family, and feeling shame for treating them with such cool disdain.
It is in Chapter 18 that Pip's greatest boyhood expectation comes true: he will inherit a fortune from a secret benefactor, and will be made into a gentleman. Pip's expectations are so inflated, however, that he sets himself up for imminent disappointment. He not only assumes that Miss Havisham is his secret benefactor, but that she intends for him to marry Estella.
Pip's rosy assumption that he and Estella are destined for one another is characteristic of his romantic hopefulness and idealism. Pip is a dreamer, his world not grounded in logic or reason. Subconsciously, he employs such rosy idealism in various situations throughout the novel, never satisfied with his present condition and always imagining himself in a better position. Pip's idealism, and his ignorance of reality and reason, inflates his expectations to unrealizable proportions, for which he will suffer later on, when reality inevitably strikes.
Pip cannot yet distinguish fact from fantasy, a point further evidenced by his sudden poor treatment of Joe and Biddy. Having been told of his fortune by Jaggers, the strange and straightforward lawyer, Pip treats his family with snobbish condescension. He tries to cast them off as he thinks a real gentleman would; now that he is a gentleman, he wants to remove himself completely from his humble beginnings. Although Joe and Biddy are the only people in Pip's life who truly care for them, he values his newfound fortune more than his relationships with family and friends. Pip is conflicted, as he was after his visit to Miss Havisham, by his feelings of superiority and his affection for Joe and Biddy. He treats them with cool disdain as they await his departure to London, but feels sorry that he has treated them so poorly when he overhears them talking about how they will miss him once he is gone. Pip's inner struggle between greed for social ascension and his love and compassion for friends will continue as a major theme throughout the novel, and will ultimately be resolved when Pip loses his fortune and realizes the importance of human relationships.
Although Pip's greatest boyhood expectation has come true, Dickens with the appearance of Jaggers, the portentous lawyer, and Pip's unreasonably rosy hopes for his future hints that the young man's experience in London will not be simply fortunate. Pip's expectations, it seems, are doomed to be disappointed. Chapter 19 marks the conclusion of Pip's boyhood, as it ends with a note that it is the end of the first stage of Pip's expectations. In Chapter 20, Pip will leave behind his life as a poor country boy and begin anew as a fortunate young man in London.