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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 39–40

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 39–40 of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Chapters 39–40 | Summary



Chapter 39

Two years after the end of the previous chapter, Pip is now 23 years old, and he and Herbert have moved to nicer rooms in the Temple. During a stormy night, Pip reads alone near his fireplace; Herbert is away on a business trip. A strange man comes to visit Pip. He is a muscular man "browned and hardened by exposure to weather." The man wants to talk to Pip and extends his arms to the young gentleman in a friendly greeting. Pip fears this man but out of common politeness invites him into his apartment. Once inside Pip soon recognizes the man as the convict he helped on the marshes many years before. The man accepts a drink and sits by the fire.

The man then reveals that he knows how much money Pip receives each year and that his former guardian was Jaggers. Pip almost faints upon realizing that this former convict, not Miss Havisham, is his benefactor. The man explains how he became a successful sheep farmer. When he began to earn large sums, he decided to make Pip into a gentleman and set up the arrangements with Jaggers. The man expresses pride in Pip's fine clothes and fancy rooms. He confesses that his arrival in England is dangerous. If a convict sent abroad returns to England he will be arrested if found out. Pip feels abhorrence toward this man for loading him with his "wretched gold." Added to this Pip now feels he holds the fate and safety of this man in his hands.

Pip lets the man sleep in Herbert's bed. Stunned, Pip tries to collect his thoughts. He now knows Miss Havisham never intended Estella for him but instead used him for Estella to practice on. Terror fills Pip as he realizes he might not be safe having this former convict under the same roof.

Chapter 40

Pip wakes up from a restless sleep. Pip soon realizes he cannot keep the former convict at his residence because doing so would be too conspicuous. While it is still dark, Pip leaves his rooms and stumbles over a man near the staircase, crouching in a corner. The watchman informs Pip that during the night he let in two strangers, who appeared to be together. One stranger Pip identifies as his former convict, but the other stranger remains unidentified.

Before breakfast the former convict tells Pip his name is Abel Magwitch, but he goes by Provis. Also Magwitch says he came alone last night, although he suspected someone might be walking near him. After breakfast Magwitch says he's planning to stay with Pip. Distraught by this news, Pip decides Magwitch should dress like a prosperous farmer. Magwitch stays in Pip's room while Pip goes out to rent a room for Magwitch and buy clothes for him. Pip then visits Jaggers to verify that Magwitch's story is indeed true. Without admitting any knowledge of Magwitch being in England, Jaggers verifies that the convict had been transported to Australia and had written him from New South Wales. Pip admits he always thought Miss Havisham to be his benefactress, but Jaggers takes no responsibility for Pip's misunderstanding. A few days later Herbert returns home, and Magwitch makes him swear not to reveal Magwitch's true identity.


Chapters 39 and 40 focus mainly on the theme of social class and ambition. Magwitch reveals his ambition to make Pip into an upper-class gentleman. For Magwitch this goal became a fixed idea as he worked to become a prosperous sheep farmer. Magwitch states, "Blast you every one, from the judge in his wig, to the colonists a stirring up dust, I'll show a better gentleman than the whole kit on you put together." This shows that members of every class have ambitions for attaining or exerting superiority. Magwitch wants Pip to become a superior gentleman. Pip and Mrs. Pocket want to gain superior positions in the upper class. Middle-class shopkeepers, such as Pumblechook, want to earn enough to become wealthy, upper-class merchants.

Pip's attempt to gain self-worth by identifying with the upper class causes him to be revolted by the idea that a lower-class convict bankrolled his rise in status. Throughout most of the novel, Pip has attempted to reject any connection to the lower classes, including criminals and Joe's work as a blacksmith. Now Pip realizes with horror that a person from a class he has been desperately avoiding has actually caused him to become a gentleman. Pip shows his revulsion of having anything to do with Magwitch when he says, "He [Magwitch] laid his hand on my shoulder. I shuddered at the thought that for anything I knew, his hand might be stained with blood."

Dickens uses the symbol of money to represent control over other people. Similar to Miss Havisham, Magwitch uses money to make a person over into what he wants. In Magwitch's case the goal is to make Pip into a gentleman who shows his superiority over other gentleman. In Miss Havisham's case the goal is to make Estella into a beautiful lady who wreaks vengeance on men.

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