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 arrives in London, which he finds crowded and dirty, and goes to see Jaggers at his office. Wemmick , the clerk, tells Pip that Jaggers is in court. While he waits for Jaggers to return, Pip tours London, and is solicited by a drunken minister of justice, who shows him the court and gallows in exchange for half-a-crown. Many others wait for Jaggers at his office, all of whom he casts off impatiently upon his return. Finally, Jaggers sees Pip, and tells him that he is to stay with Mr. (Herbert) Pocket , son of Matthew Pocket , tutor, until he begins his lessons.
Upon his arrival in London, Pip thinks the city dank and dirty. He goes to Mr. Jaggers office, but is told by Wemmick, the clerk that Jaggers is in court. While he waits for Jaggers' return, Pip takes a short tour of London, and encounters a drunken minister of justice who offers to show him around the court and gallows, in exchange for half-a-crown. The tour gives Pip a sickening idea of the city.
Back at Jaggers' office, Pip finds many other people there awaiting the lawyer's return. When Jaggers does arrive, he treats his clients with a stern, authoritative manner. He has no patience for most of them, especially a bumbling fellow called Mike. Finally, Jaggers sees Pip and tells him that he is to stay with the young Mr. (Herbert) Pocket at Barnard's Inn until Monday, when he will begin lessons with the senior Mr. Matthew Pocket.
Wemmick delivers Pip to Barnard's Inn, a shoddy place, where he is to stay with Herbert Pocket. Pip and Herbert like each other instantly, and they soon realize that Herbert is the pale young gentleman who Pip fought in Miss Havisham's garden.
Wemmick brings Pip to Barnard's Inn which is not nearly as lavish as he had anticipated; it is hardly lavish at all where he will stay the night with Herbert Pocket, the son of Pip's tutor Matthew Pocket. Herbert welcomes Pip graciously, and makes him feel at ease. Pip senses that Herbert is an honest man, and without pretenses. He hopes to become a shipping merchant, though Pip thinks that his honesty will hurt his success as a businessman. The two young men get along exceedingly well and are instant friends. After talking with one another, they soon realize that they have met on a previous occasion. Herbert, they discover, is the pale young gentleman who fought with and lost to Pip in Miss Havisham's garden.
Herbert gives Pip the nickname of Handel, and tells him the story of Miss Havisham's strange history over dinner. She was raised by a wealthy father who ran a brewery, and who remarried to his cook after her mother's death. This second marriage proffered Miss Havisham's half-brother, who was unruly and extravagant with his inheritance. She fell in love and was engaged to be married to a man who encouraged her to purchase a share of the brewery, which had been bequeathed to her half-brother, for an extraordinarily high price. On her wedding day, Miss Havisham received a note from her fianc calling off the wedding. It is suspected that he and her half-brother had plotted to split the profits of her brewery purchase.
Although it goes unspoken, it is understood between Herbert and Pip that Miss Havisham is Pip's anonymous benefactor.
Herbert jokes to Pip that Estella has been raised by Miss Havisham to wreak havoc on the male sex, and tells them that Estella is of no relation to the old woman, but that she is only adopted. Herbert gives Pip the nickname of Handel, by which he addresses him throughout the novel. Over dinner, Pip requests that Herbert teach him to behave as a gentleman, and Herbert tells Pip the story of Miss Havisham and her mysterious ways.
Herbert reports that Miss Havisham fell in love with a man from a lower social class than her own, and was engaged to be married to him. As a child, she was very spoiled by her father, who ran a brewery, and was very wealthy and proud. Following her mother's death, her father married the household cook, with whom he had a son, Miss Havisham's half brother. Her half brother was undutiful and unruly, and misused his inheritance. Miss Havisham's fianc convinced her to buy a share of the brewery, which had been bequeathed to her half-brother, for an absurdly high price. On her wedding day, Miss Havisham received a note from her fianc, heartlessly calling off the marriage. It was at the minute, twenty minutes to nine, that she received the letter that she stopped all of the clocks at Satis House. It is suspected that her fianc and half brother had plotted against her, and had split the profits from her purchase of the brewery.
Although it goes unspoken, it is understood between Herbert and Pip that Miss Havisham is Pip's anonymous benefactor.
Pip has dinner with his tutor, Matthew Pocket, and his family. Also at dinner are Pip's fellow students, Bentley Drummle , who is rude and ignorant, and Startop , who is delicate and effeminate. Pip finds Mr. Pocket kind, though Mrs. Pocket is loud, pompous, and temperamental.
The following day, Pip goes to Matthew Pocket's house to be tutored and to have dinner. Mr. Pocket seems an agreeable man, however Mrs. Pocket is gruff and temperamental, and puts on a haughty air. Pip notes that the servants seem to run the Pocket household, which is busy with children and other visitors, including two other students, Bentley Drummle and Startop. Pip likes Startop, with his gentle, feminine demeanor. He is less fond of Drummle, heir to a baronetcy, who is rude, snobbish, and rather stupid. Pip is mindful to observe the proper, gentlemanly manners Herbert has taught him as he dines with the Pockets.
Pip goes to see Jaggers in London to ask his permission to continue living with Herbert. Jaggers gives him twenty pounds to purchase the necessary furniture. Pip befriends Wemmick, Jaggers' clerk, who invites him to dinner at his home.
Pip admires Mr. Pocket for his enthusiasm for teaching, and gets along with him quite well. In London, Pip sees Mr. Jaggers to confirm his living arrangement with Herbert at Barnard's Inn. Mr. Jaggers gives Pip twenty pounds from his benefactor so that he may purchase the furniture in his room at the Inn. As always, Jaggers is brisk and authoritative. Pip mentions Jaggers' unusual manner to Wemmick, the clerk, and thus befriends him. Wemmick impresses the importance of separating personal and professional relationships, then invites Pip to dinner at his home. Pip witnesses Jaggers in action, arguing a trial, and is impressed by his powerful command over the courtroom.
Pip dines at Wemmick's home, a small, gothic castle in Walworth, where they are joined by an old man who Wemmick calls the Aged Parent. Pip notes Wemmick's marked change in demeanor when he is at home (where he is relaxed and jovial) versus when he is at work (where he is dry and rigid).
Pip progresses in his lessons with Mr. Pocket, and becomes more familiar with the Pocket family and his fellow students, Startop, who he finds agreeable, and Drummle, who he loathes for his laziness and stupidity. Pip has dinner at Wemmick's home, a strange, gothic castle in Walworth, which Pip regards as the smallest house he has ever seen. There, Pip meets Wemmick's father, who he calls the Aged Parent. Pip notes the marked difference in Wemmick's demeanor when he is in his home, versus when he is at work. At home, Wemmick is relaxed and friendly, whereas at work, he is rigid and dry. Pip notices the change in his manner, from merry to businesslike, as they walk closer to Jaggers' office.
Pip dines at Jaggers' house with Drummle and Startop. Molly, Jaggers' housekeeper, serves the meal, and is embarrassed when Jaggers calls attention to the strength of her wrists, one of which is scarred and disfigured. Pip argues with Drummle over a loan that Startop lent to Drummle, which Drummle has thanklessly failed to repay. Jaggers warns Pip to stay away from Drummle, though he says he likes the young man, himself. A month later, Pip is relieved to learn that Drummle, no longer Pocket's student, has gone home.
Pip is invited to dinner at Jaggers' house, which he shares with his bashful, burly housekeeper, Molly . Jaggers and Molly seem to have an unusual relationship, though it is unclear how it is so. As Molly is serving the meal, Jaggers calls attention to the strenth of the woman's wrists, one of which is deeply scarred and disfigured. Molly recoils in embarrassment and retreats to the kitchen.
Also at dinner are Startop and Drummle. Pip and Drummle argue over a loan that Startop generously lent to Drummle, which Drummle has thanklessly failed to repay. Although Jaggers says he himself likes Drummle, he warns Pip to keep clear of him. A month following the dinner, Pip is greatly relieved to learn that Drummle's tutelage with Mr. Pocket has ended, and that he has gone home.
This section of the novel, presented in a series of short chapters, aptly represents Pip's whirlwind experience upon his arrival in London. He is introduced to an entirely new cast of characters (as is the reader), and must adjust to the strange new setting of the city. The setting itself is an undeniably important element in Pip's experience, as it is throughout the novel. Habitually, Dickens correlates the setting and the story to emphasized its effects. In London, Pip finds London dank and dirty, teeming with throngs of people, and blackened by the filth and smoke coughed into the sky by factory chimneys. London is nothing like the marshes, though it is hardly the shining beacon of hope and modernity that Pip had anticipated. He is disappointed to find that the city itself does not seem very gentlemanly; rather, it strikes him as coarse, rude, and unkempt. Pip is disgusted by London, and a bit fearful of it. His feelings about the city mark yet another disappointment of his great expectations.
Although the novel is more dramatic than comical, Dickens is a comic master. The author's subtle wry humor shines in Chapter 20, when Pip is asked by an exceedingly dirty and partially drunk minister of justice, who is dressed in rags, is he would like to watch a trial at Newgate Prison in exchange for a small sum of money. The man's drunkenness, greed, and shoddy appearance represent the corruption of justice and the downfall of morality. This scene signifies the introduction of a major theme in the novel: the fallibility of the justice system. Touring the gallows, Pip is impressed with a sickening idea of London, and is reminded of the dreadful convict who he had helped in the marshes as a boy. This theme of justice and law is closely intertwined with Pip's overwhelming feelings of guilt and anxiety, and his obsession with imminent redemption for the wrong he has done. Pip's sickening visit to Newgate Prison foreshadows later developments in the novel, Magwitch , when the convict from Pip's youth, reveals himself as Pip's secret benefactor, but is recaptured and sentenced to death at the gallows.
Dickens' introduction of a new cast of characters presents yet another play on opposites. Jaggers, Pip's lawyer and guardian, is harsh, dark, and direct, the epitome of no-nonsense authority. By contrast, Herbert Pocket, Pip's closest companion (and the pale young gentleman he fought in Miss Havisham's garden in Chapter 11), is gentle, speaking delicately, and serving as Pip's friend with patience, humility, and kindness. Like Miss Havisham, Jaggers strikes Pip as an embodiment of death; he is dark and deeply eccentric, and his chair, hammered with rows of brass nails, reminds Pip of a coffin. Both his office and his home are dismal and oppressive, akin to his very character.
Wemmick, Jaggers' clerk, must alter his personality to match the office. Throughout the novel, he stresses the importance of separating the personal from the professional, and operates on a clearly split personality. In Jaggers' office, Wemmick is dry, serious, and utterly businesslike. At home in Walworth, however, Wemmick reveals his true human nature, buoyant with high spirits and acting kind and friendly toward Pip. He fears that if he is to show his true humanness to Jaggers who seems to lack humanity entirely that Jaggers will lose respect for him. Although Pip is initially confused by Wemmick's change in personality, he senses that Wemmick is kind and trustworthy, and will serve him well as a friend. Wemmick also introduces two important phrases used throughout the novel: portable property, referring namely to Pip's fortune, and the Aged Parent with whom he shares his tiny castle.