Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 5–6

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 5–6 of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Chapters 5–6 | Summary



Chapter 5

The sergeant in charge of the soldiers asks Joe if he could repair handcuffs and then explains they are tracking down two escaped convicts. Pip feels relief that they have not come for him. Joe begins to work on the handcuffs at his forge, assisted by some soldiers.

After Joe finishes repairing the handcuffs, he proposes to his Christmas guests that they should go along on the hunt for the convicts. Mr. Wopsle agrees, but the other guests decline. Joe, Pip, and Mr. Wopsle follow the soldiers into the marsh. Pip worries that his convict will identify him if they should meet. The soldiers hurry through the marsh with Mr. Wopsle and Joe, carrying Pip on his back running after them. Moving toward the Battery, the soldiers come upon two convicts fighting in the mud. The soldiers separate them, and Pip recognizes his convict. The other is the man with the bruised left cheek. Pip's convict expresses satisfaction that he prevented the other convict from escaping. The other convict accuses Pip's convict of trying to murder him.

Pip's convict looks at Pip for a moment. Pip lightly shakes his head, trying to convey that he isn't an informer. However, Pip is not sure if his convict understands. The soldiers take the two prisoners to a hut by the sea, followed by Joe, Pip, and Mr. Wopsle. In the hut Pip's convict tells the sergeant that he stole food, including a pork pie, from a blacksmith in a nearby village. Joe admits that his wife noticed the pie was missing just as the soldiers arrived. The soldiers place the two convicts in a boat, which is then rowed out to a prison hulk.

Chapter 6

Pip feels he should tell Joe about his theft. However, Pip fears that if he comes clean Joe will always view him with suspicion and distrust. As a result Pip decides not to reveal the truth. Exhausted, Pip dozes in the kitchen. When he wakes up, he overhears Joe describing the capture of the convict and Pumblechook theorizing on how the convict committed the theft. Mrs. Joe drags Pip to bed.


In Chapter 5 the theme of uncertainty and deceit takes center stage. Early in the chapter Pip is uncertain whether the soldiers have come to arrest him. Later Pip is uncertain why the two convicts are fighting. Pip's convict exclaims that he's not going to let the other convict make a fool of him again. But exactly how the other convict made a fool of Pip's convict is not explained.

Also uncertainty makes Pip afraid that his deceitful act of stealing will come to light. He is not sure if his convict will tattle on him. Because of this Pip tries to convey to his convict that he isn't an informer but is uncertain whether the convict understands. Unexpectedly, Pip's convict claims he stole the items, thereby letting Pip off the hook.

In Chapter 6 Dickens focuses on the theme of guilt. Pip feels guilty about not telling Joe about stealing the food and file. However, Pip does not feel this guilt out of a conviction that theft is wrong but instead because he loves Joe. (Pip does not feel the need to tell Mrs. Joe about the theft because he does not love her.) In contrast, because Pip loves Joe, he believes he should be honest with the blacksmith. This love, though, prevents Pip from telling the truth. If he confesses, the blacksmith might never be able to trust Pip again. The fear of forever being seen in a suspicious light by the person he loves prevents Pip from being honest.

Dickens develops the theme of social class in both Chapters 5 and 6. The working-class sergeant, Joe, and Mrs. Joe and the middle-class Christmas guests view the capture of the convicts as a game. The lower-class convicts are objectified as prey to be hunted down and, therefore, are seen as a form of entertainment. Pip states, "They had not enjoyed themselves a quarter so much, before the entertainment was brightened with the excitement he [Pip's convict] furnished." The chase to capture the convicts could be seen as a type of fox hunt.

Pip and, to a certain extent, Joe are the only characters who do not see the convicts as entertainment. Throughout Chapter 5 Pip views the convicts in a sympathetic light. When the soldiers and civilians talk excitedly about chasing the convicts, Pip imagines the afternoon turns pale because of the plight of the poor convicts. Also, during the chase Pip whispers to Joe that he wishes the convicts are not caught. After the capture the interchange between Pip's convict and Joe breaks through the entertainment dynamic. The convict apologizes to Joe for stealing food and eating the pie. Joe says, "We ... wouldn't have you starved to death ..., poor miserable fellow-creature." Good-hearted Joe no longer sees the convict as a diversion. Instead Joe relates to the convict as a fellow human being, regardless of social status.

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