Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 31–32 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31

Pip and Herbert attend a performance of Hamlet, in which Mr. Wopsle plays the title role. The performance is so bad that it becomes a farce. After the play Pip and Herbert visit Wopsle backstage. With an air of dignity, Mr. Wopsle asks Pip and Herbert about their opinion of his performance. Herbert prods Pip to give genial responses. Feeling sorry for Wopsle, Pip invites him to supper.

Chapter 32

Pip receives a letter from Estella confirming Miss Havisham's arrangement for Pip to meet Estella when she arrives in London by coach. Anxiously Pip goes to the coach office hours before the coach is due to arrive. There he runs into Wemmick on his way to Newgate Prison. Wemmick invites Pip to accompany him and, eager to kill time, Pip agrees.

At the prison Pip notices Wemmick treat prisoners like a gardener looking over his plants. When Wemmick sees a newly arrived prisoner he greets the convict like a shoot that just sprouted during the night. Clients of Jaggers, these prisoners recognize Wemmick and question him about their cases. However, Wemmick replies that as a subordinate he can provide no answers and to ask Jaggers. Pip and Wemmick part, and Pip heads back to the coach office. There he waits for Estella, shaking off the foul dust from the prison as he prepares to meet her.

Analysis

In Chapter 31 Dickens conveys the themes of ambition and deceit by drawing a parallel between Mr. Wopsle and Pip. Mr. Wopsle is a person who has a lifelong ambition of being a great stage performer. Although he does become an actor, Mr. Wopsle is deceiving himself. He has no talent and will never become a great actor. Pip has the ambition of marrying Estella. However, Pip is also deceiving himself. He knows deep within himself that no matter how strong his yearning for Estella he will not attain her, at least not in the way he hopes. Despite this he keeps on trying to win her over, like Mr. Wopsle keeps on acting even though greatness is out of his reach. So Pip's expectations of a meaningful relationship with Estella is as much of a sham as Wopsle's acting ability. Considering this, it comes as no surprise that Pip dreams about himself incompetently playing Hamlet to Miss Havisham's ghost.

In Chapter 32 Dickens develops the theme of social class by contrasting Pip's lofty dreams about the upper-class Estella with the grimy lower-class prisoners at Newgate. The chapter begins with Pip being so anxious about meeting Estella that he wants to buy several new suits, but he realizes he doesn't have the time. As it is, he comes to the coach office to meet Estella hours early. Pip's fixation on his ideal is interrupted by Wemmick on his way to Newgate Prison. At the prison Pip faces the exact opposite of his beautiful dream. Pip describes the prison as "a frouzy, ugly, disorderly, depressing scene." In fact when Pip returns to the coach office, he feels contaminated by the prison dust on his clothes, especially considering that he is about to meet the refined Estella. For Pip, Estella and the prison seem like opposite ends of the spectrum. Later he learns how appearances can be deceptive. Also Pip's contact with the criminal element foreshadows the appearance of Magwitch and the revelation that Pip's expectations have been provided by a criminal.

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