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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 3–4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 3–4 of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Chapters 3–4 | Summary



Chapter 3

Pip carries his handkerchief bundle filled with food and a file into the marsh. Pip comes upon a man whom he assumes is the same man he met yesterday. However, when the man turns toward Pip the boy realizes he is a different man who also wears a leg iron. This man, who has a bruised left cheek, stumbles away into the mist. Pip assumes this is the young companion he was warned about.

At the Battery Pip finds the man he met the previous day, "limping to and fro" in the same spot. Pip gives the man the food and brandy. The man thanks Pip and devours the food. Pip expresses concern that the man won't leave any food for his young companion, and the man at first dismisses it. But when Pip says he saw the young companion, the man becomes surprised and threatens to track him down. Pip slips away as the convict begins to use the file on his leg iron.

Chapter 4

Soon guests arrive on Christmas Day at Pip's house, including Mr. Wopsle, Uncle Pumblechook, and Mr. and Mrs. Hubble. Mr. Wopsle is a church clerk who considers himself a gifted orator. Uncle Pumblechook is a pompous middle-aged man. During the dinner Pumblechook makes Pip the focal point of a lesson on how boys are similar to swine because they are selfish and ungrateful. Pip fears that the missing food will be discovered during the course of the dinner. His fear soars when Mrs. Joe tells her guests she will serve as a final course a "savory pork pie." Terrified, Pip jumps up from the table and runs to the door, only to collide with a party of soldiers.


In Chapters 3 and 4 Dickens continues to intertwine the themes of deceit and guilt. When Pip heads through the misty marshes, his deceitful act of stealing the food causes him to feel so guilty he imagines the animals accusing him of being a thief. The next morning Pip continues to feel guilt and, as a result, expects "to find a Constable in the kitchen, waiting to take me up." During the Christmas dinner Pip fears his deceitful act will be found out. Also Pumblechook's discourse on how Pip is selfish like a swine adds to his sense of guilt. Pip relates that "everybody had looked at me (as I felt painfully conscious) with indignation and abhorrence." So in addition to feeling guilty about stealing food, Pip also feels guilt and shame for who he is as a person. Indeed Mrs. Joe states that "she had wished me [Pip] in my grave." Therefore Pip senses that most of the adults he knows, except for Joe, wish that he never existed. Considering this, opening the novel with Pip pondering the graves of his dead parents seems quite appropriate. Pip himself must, at least subconsciously, feel that he has no right to live.

Dickens develops the theme of class ambition by contrasting the meal eaten by the man on the marsh with the Christmas dinner. The lower-class man on the marsh ravenously eats his meal like a starving dog. In contrast the Christmas dinner shows working-class Joe and Mrs. Joe and middle-class Uncle Pumblechook, Mr. Wopsle, and Mr. and Mrs. Hubble enjoying a delicious meal of several courses. The only exception is Pip. The man on the marsh experiences the harshness of physical deprivation. Pip experiences harshness from some members of the middle class who have selfish and superior attitudes. Mrs. Joe is mainly concerned about ingratiating herself with Pumblechook because she wants to advance into the middle class. For his part Pumblechook senses his superior social position over Joe and Mrs. Joe and, as a result, acts with benevolent condescension toward them.

Also Dickens makes connections between Pip and the man on the marsh. The narrator states, "I couldn't warm my feet, to which the damp cold seemed riveted, as the iron was riveted to the leg of the man I was running to meet." At the end of Chapter 4, Pip fears he will be accused of a crime and flees, only to run into soldiers with handcuffs. In his anxiety Pip might think the soldiers have come to arrest him, but instead they come for the man on the marsh.

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