Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 17–18 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 17

Pip visits Miss Havisham on his birthday. He finds the situation at Satis House identical to his previous visits: Miss Pocket lets Pip in, Miss Havisham sits at her dressing table, and she tells Pip the same information about Estella. Miss Havisham gives Pip a guinea for coming and tells him to visit on his next birthday. Pip continues to hate his trade and be ashamed of his home. However, Pip has come to appreciate Biddy's pleasant, wholesome attitude and her ability to learn things without seeming to study anything.

Pip and Biddy walk on the marsh, and Pip confesses he wants to be a gentleman to gain the approval of Estella. Pip admits that his infatuation with Estella is foolish, but he can't help himself. Pip confesses to Biddy that he wishes he could fall in love with her. If this happened Pip knows he would be free from his torturous adoration of Estella. However, Biddy tells Pip that he never will fall in love with her.

On the way back home, Pip and Biddy meet Orlick, who wants to accompany them. Biddy admits to Pip that Orlick is interested in her romantically. This idea offends Pip, who from then on keeps an eye on Orlick to make sure he doesn't impose himself on Biddy.

Chapter 18

At the tavern Pip recognizes a man. Pip met this man on the stairs during his second visit to Miss Havisham's place. The man informs Pip and Joe that he has some personal business to discuss with them. Amazed by this, Pip and Joe walk the man to Pip's house. In the parlor the man informs Pip and Joe that he is Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer from London. Mr. Jaggers has come to relieve Joe of Pip's services as an apprentice. Mr. Jaggers asks Joe if he wants any compensation for this, and Joe says he doesn't. Mr. Jaggers then tells Pip "that he has great expectations." Mr. Jaggers explains that an anonymous benefactor will make Pip a possessor of property when he becomes an adult, and, until this time, the benefactor wants Pip to be brought up as a gentleman. The benefactor has two conditions. First Pip shall always go by the name Pip. Second Pip will accept the benefactor keeping his name secret until the benefactor shall choose to reveal it. Stunned, Pip accepts both terms.

Mr. Jaggers tells Pip to view him as his guardian—a service Mr. Jaggers provides only because he is paid for it. Also Pip will be paid money for his education and live as a gentleman. Mr. Jaggers sets Pip up with a tutor in London named Matthew Pocket. Pip recognizes that name as one of Miss Havisham's relatives. Pip, therefore, connects the mysterious benefactor with Miss Havisham. Mr. Jaggers leaves Pip money to buy new clothes. Pip says he will come to London soon, and Mr. Jaggers takes his leave.

In the kitchen Pip tells Biddy of his change in fortune. Both Biddy and Joe congratulate Pip. Biddy tries to communicate the startling news to Mrs. Joe, but she just nods happily without understanding. Pip says that, when he buys his wardrobe, he doesn't want to display himself in his new clothes for other villagers to admire, which would be "a coarse and common business." When Pip goes to his room, he sees it as "a mean little room that I should soon be parted from and raised above, for ever."

Analysis

In Chapters 17 and 18 Dickens interrelates the theme of social class and ambition with the theme of uncertainty and deceit and the theme of guilt. Pip confesses to Biddy that he has a burning ambition to improve himself and become less common to attain Estella's approval. Pip, therefore, wants to raise himself from working class to an upper-class gentleman. However, Pip feels guilt about his ambition. He knows "it was much to be regretted, but still it was not to be helped." Also Biddy's response to Pip's desire to become a gentleman causes the reader to question Pip's dream. Biddy replies, "Oh, I wouldn't, if I was you!" Pip views Biddy's response as absurd, but her quiet resistance undercuts Pip's ambitions. In addition Pip feels guilt about being eager to leave Joe and being so unthankful to him. Pip states, "Dissatisfied with my fortune, of course I could not be; but it is possible that I may have been, without quite knowing it, dissatisfied with myself."

The influence of social class and ambition can be seen on Pip soon after he learns about his great expectation. He expresses his discomfort to Joe about being gawked at in his new clothes by the townsfolk. Such a situation, according to Pip, would be "a coarse and common business." Pip's tone of voice then starts to become more refined. For example, Pip says to Biddy, "you are so exceedingly quick." Such a phrase could have been said by Estella or Miss Havisham. So Pip immediately begins to assume the refined sensibilities of the upper class, which he learned at Satis House.

With Pip's change of fortune, Dickens adds uncertainty and deceit to the mix of ambition and guilt. When Pip learns about his mysterious benefactor, Pip realizes that his ambitions can be accomplished. However, this realization is filled with uncertainty and deceit. Pip has no idea who his benefactor is, although he assumes it is Miss Havisham. This assumption is reinforced when Pip learns that his tutor will be Matthew Pocket. Also apparently Mr. Jaggers is Miss Havisham's lawyer because Pip met him at Satis House. This assumption about the benefactor's identify sets up Pip for Miss Havisham's deception.

It should be noted that Pip does not have ambition because he wants to become rich. Satis House could hardly fill Pip with the desire for wealth. The house is falling apart, decrepit, and weird, as is its owner. Indeed in comparison the neatness and comfort of Pip's modest home seems more desirable. Rather Satis House, Miss Havisham, and Estella represent superiority to Pip. Satis House and Miss Havisham never seem to change but instead are a constant, seemingly eternal, enigmatic presence that mystifies Pip. This mystification adds to their allure as something superior. Pip states, "It [Satis House] bewildered me, and under its influence I continued at heart to hate my trade and to be ashamed of home." Therefore Pip feels that to become worthy and acceptable as a person he must improve his station in life and reach the superior stratosphere of Miss Havisham, Estella, and Satis House. For Pip money is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

The symbol of tears takes on another meaning in Chapter 17. Biddy sheds tears when Pip compliments her by saying how industrious she is. In this case tears represent Biddy's love for Pip. So far in Great Expectations Dickens uses tears to represent various types of passionate emotions, from Pip's shame caused by Estella's insults to Biddy's love for Pip.

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