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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 15–16

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 15–16 of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Chapters 15–16 | Summary



Chapter 15

Pip leaves school after learning as much from Biddy as he can. Pip tutors Joe, trying to make him more worthy in the eyes of Miss Havisham and Estella. However, Joe is unaware of Pip's secret motive. One day Pip asks if Joe thinks it would be all right for Pip to visit Miss Havisham. Joe reminds Pip that Miss Havisham said they should not expect any more from her. However, when Pip claims he just wants to thank Miss Havisham, Joe allows him to have a half-day holiday.

Joe has an assistant named Orlick, a morose character who dislikes Pip. Orlick claims that if Pip gets a half-day holiday he should get one too. Joe reluctantly agrees. Overhearing this, Mrs. Joe gets upset, calling Joe a fool for granting half-holidays. Orlick calls Mrs. Joe a "foul shrew," which causes her to fly into a rage. Joe defends his wife by fighting Orlick and beating him soundly.

Pip heads to Satis House, and Miss Sarah Pocket instead of Estella lets him in. In the dressing room Pip greets Miss Havisham and thanks her. Miss Havisham tells Pip to visit her on his birthday. She notices Pip looking around for Estella. Pleased by this she tells the boy that Estella has gone abroad for her education and is prettier than ever. Then she dismisses him.

Pip, Mr. Wopsle, and Orlick walk to the tavern, where they learn that someone has been attacked at Pip's house. Pip and Orlick run home, where they find a crowd gathered. Pip finds out that Mrs. Joe has been knocked down by a "tremendous blow on the back of the head."

Chapter 16

Pip reviews the scene of the assault on Mrs. Joe. During the evening of the crime, Joe was at the tavern for two hours. When he went home, he found Mrs. Joe "down on the floor." Mrs. Joe was facing the fire when struck on the back of the head and spine by a blunt object. Nothing was stolen from the house. On the ground beside her Joe spots a convict's leg iron. The leg iron had been filed, which convinces Pip that it was the same one worn by his convict.

Pip believes either Orlick or the strange man with the file committed the crime. However, Orlick has a strong alibi, having been seen about town during the evening of the assault. The strange man, though, seems to have no reason to attack Mrs. Joe. Pip feels bad about inadvertently providing the weapon of the assault.

As a result of the assault, Mrs. Joe has impaired memory, hearing, and speech, so she has difficulty communicating what she wants. However, Pip points out that "her temper was greatly improved, and she was patient." After months of frustration at not being able to understand Mrs. Joe, Pip invites Biddy to stay at the house. Biddy has a knack for understanding what Mrs. Joe is trying to communicate. Mrs. Joe shows a desire to be on good terms with Orlick and routinely requests that the blacksmith assistant be brought to her.


Chapters 15 and 16 build on the theme of uncertainty. For example, when Pip visits Miss Havisham, Miss Pocket is uncertain whether she should let Pip enter Satis House, and Pip is uncertain about where Estella is. When he learns that Estella has gone abroad to be educated as a lady, Miss Havisham realizes that Pip has become uncertain about ever winning her approval. So the recluse asks, "Do you feel that you have lost her?" This turn of events makes Pip even more dissatisfied with his life and his work. Concerning the assault on Mrs. Joe, Pip is uncertain about who committed the crime, how the leg iron became the weapon, and whether to tell Joe the truth about how the leg iron became filed.

Some of this uncertainty leads to deceit. When Miss Havisham senses Pip's uncertainty about Estella's whereabouts, she realizes the boy is still infatuated with the girl. As a result Miss Havisham comes up with the idea of Pip visiting her on his birthday, not out of friendliness but for her own deceitful reason. She wants to keep tormenting him about Estella. Also Pip's uncertainty about whether to tell Joe the truth about the convict on the marshes and the filed leg iron convinces him to take the safe route and keep the story a secret. In addition Pip fears that Joe will not let him visit Miss Havisham if he states his real reason, namely to see Estella. So Pip keeps his true motive a secret but accidentally reveals it through a slip of the tongue by saying, "Miss Est—Havisham."

Dickens uses Biddy as an anecdote to uncertainty. The author shows this character as an honest person who communicates clearly and directly. When Mrs. Joe is assaulted, she becomes a mentally impaired person who cannot communicate clearly. As a result Pip and Joe are constantly uncertain about what she wants. However, when Biddy comes to work at Joe's home, she shows the ability to decipher Mrs. Joe's signs. Because of this, Biddy resolves any uncertainty about Mrs. Joe's wishes and adds stability to the household.

Dickens conveys the theme of social class and ambition through Pip's obsession to rise to the upper class to receive the approval of Miss Havisham and Estella. In fact he becomes so obsessed by this idea that he tutors Joe for the purpose of making him seem less common. After Pip visits Miss Havisham, his ambition increases even more. He feels more dissatisfied about being a common blacksmith's apprentice and looks in shop windows "thinking what I would buy if I were a gentleman."

Also Dickens explores the theme of social class and ambition through Orlick's jealousy. Orlick feels envious of Pip because of his social standing in Joe's family. When Pip became an apprentice, Orlick fears that Pip will replace him. So Orlick thinks Pip has a special superior status in the family. Orlick resents this and, as a result, is constantly jealous of Pip.

Dickens uses foreshadowing in Chapter 15 through the play about George Barnwell, which deals with an apprentice who murders his master. Wopsle recites this play to Pip and Pumblechook. Soon after this recitation Pip learns about Mrs. Joe being attacked. The play, thus, foreshadows the attack while hinting that the assailant might be a person who works for Joe and Mrs. Joe, namely Orlick.

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