Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 11–12 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 11

Pip visits Satis House, and Estella escorts him to a room where three women (Mrs. Camilla, Sarah Pocket, and Georgiana) and a man (Mr. Camilla) are seated. All the visitors strike Pip as phonies. As Estella leads Pip to Miss Havisham's room, she asks him if he still finds her insulting. When Pip replies she isn't as insulting as before, Estella slaps Pip angrily. On the stairs Pip meets a burly man who warns the boy to behave himself. Estella leaves Pip in the dressing room with Miss Havisham, who tells Pip to go across the hall. Pip does so and finds himself in a large, dark room that has been boarded. Pip sees a long table covered by a tablecloth with a centerpiece on it "overhung with cobwebs."

Miss Havisham enters and tells Pip she will be laid on the table when she is dead. Then Miss Havisham points at the centerpiece and says it's her wedding cake. Miss Havisham has the boy lead her around the room. Estella arrives with the four visitors. Miss Havisham acts rudely toward them as she continues to have Pip lead her around the room. Mrs. Camilla talks about a person named Matthew Pocket and how shameful it is that he doesn't visit Miss Havisham. Losing her patience, Miss Havisham exclaims that all the visitors and Matthew will be in this room to view her dead body and "feast upon" her. She then orders the visitors to leave.

In the dressing room Pip and Estella play cards for Miss Havisham's diversion. Miss Havisham directs Pip to notice Estella's beauty. Estella then leads Pip to the garden and leaves him. Soon Pip meets a "pale young gentleman" who for some unexplained reason wants to fight Pip. The gentleman provides a provocation by butting his head into Pip's stomach. Annoyed, Pip agrees to fight. Pip punches the gentleman, knocking him down, but the young man pops right up to fight some more. This happens again and again until the gentleman gives up. They part cordially. As Estella takes Pip to the gate, her face is flushed. She says Pip can kiss her. He kisses her cheek, and Estella lets him out.

Chapter 12

Pip summarizes his experiences with Miss Havisham and Estella over the next 8 or 10 ten months. Miss Havisham often has Pip push her in a wheelchair while she questions him. She wonders what Pip is learning and what he plans to be. She never pays money to Pip but always feeds him dinner. Estella often spends time with Miss Havisham and Pip. The girl treats Pip inconsistently, sometimes being condescending and other times familiar. Miss Havisham often asks Pip if Estella is getting prettier; Pip admits that she is.

Pip doesn't tell Joe about his strange experiences at Satis House for fear the blacksmith will think Pip is lying again. However, Pip tells Biddy everything. She listens with "deep concern." Meanwhile Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook often ruminate about Pip's prospects based on Miss Havisham's attentions. Joe remains silent during these talks. One day at Satis House, Miss Havisham tells Pip to bring his master, Joe Gargery, to her.

Analysis

Social class and ambition is the major theme developed in Chapters 11 and 12. In these chapters Dickens introduces a series of characters who see more value in social standing than in true friendship. These characters include relations of Miss Havisham—Mr. and Mrs. Camilla, Miss Sarah Pocket, and Georgiana. They want to ingratiate themselves to Miss Havisham for financial gain, not because they love her. For her part Miss Havisham detests these relatives, calling them parasites who will "feast upon me" when she is dead.

Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook also have ambitions for financial gain from Miss Havisham, which they hope will improve their social status. Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook constantly discuss how Miss Havisham might improve Pip's prospects, much to the boy's annoyance. Dickens, therefore, shows that many members of the working and middle classes have ambitions for upward mobility. Joe and Biddy can be seen as exceptions to the rule.

Also through his use of language, Dickens satirizes people who stress financial gain and upward mobility as being more important than friendship and love. For instance, the author refers to Camilla's face as a "dead wall." Dickens describes Miss Sarah Pocket as a "little dry brown corrugated old woman." The author refers to Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook's discussions about improving Pip's prospects as "nonsensical speculations."

Chapter 12 also focuses on the theme of uncertainty and deceit. Pip's visits to Miss Havisham confuse him and therefore make him susceptible to her influence. Miss Havisham influences Pip for reasons that are hidden. Pip mentions that Miss Havisham "seemed to prefer my being ignorant." Pip overhears Miss Havisham telling Estella to break his heart. But these hints about Miss Havisham's true motives have little effect on Pip. He is dazed by his experience with Miss Havisham and Estella, all the time becoming more infatuated by the girl's allure.

In Chapter 11 Dickens returns to two symbols: Satis House and tears. The symbol of Satis House as representing a lack of change and therefore death is strongly reinforced. In the large room Pip sees a place that has not changed for many years. Dust and mold cover everything. Miss Havisham tells Pip she will be laid on the table when she is dead. Therefore Satis House can be seen as a type of mausoleum. When Estella slaps Pip, he says he won't cry about her anymore but admits to himself that he is crying inside. These inner tears represent for Pip a sense of shame and inferiority as well as separation from what he wants to obtain.

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