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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Chapters 53–54

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapters 53–54 of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Chapters 53–54 | Summary



Chapter 53

Pip heads onto the marshes to the limekiln, where he sees the old sluice-house. Pip knocks at the door but doesn't hear a response. He enters and is attacked from behind by Orlick, who binds Pip with a rope to a ladder. Intoxicated, Orlick triumphantly claims, "I've got you." With the rope pressing painfully into his wounded arm, Pip asks why Orlick has attacked him. Orlick explains he is getting back at Pip for getting him fired from his position at Miss Havisham's and for coming between him and Biddy. Orlick declares he is going to kill Pip by knocking him unconscious and sticking him in the limekiln. Orlick goes on to say he has learned about Pip trying to get Magwitch out of the country. Orlick lifts up a stone hammer. Suddenly several people attack Orlick, causing him to flee. Herbert, Startop, and Trabb's boy have come to the rescue. Pip had accidentally left Orlick's note at his residence, and Herbert read it. Alarmed, he and Startop went to Pip's village and, with the help of Trabb's boy, tracked Pip down. Herbert and Startop take Pip back to London, where Pip recovers from his ordeal.

Chapter 54

Pip, Herbert, and Startop board their rowboat and, with Herbert and Startop rowing and Pip guiding the rudder, head toward Clara's house. When they arrive Magwitch boards the rowboat. Magwitch expresses his gratitude to Pip for seeing him out of the country. The four of them head down the Thames out of London to a remote public house. There they eat dinner and stay the night. The next morning Pip and his three friends get in their rowboat and head out into the track of the expected foreign packet-boat. As the packet powered by steam approaches, a four-oared galley shoots into the packet's track. The galley approaches alongside Pip's boat, and an officer in the galley orders a returned Transport (convict) to be handed over. Meanwhile the packet steamer has reached the galley and Pip's boat and, to avoid hitting them, stops its paddles. The officer grabs Magwitch, who lunges at a person with a cloaked face in the galley. Magwitch pulls the cloak away, revealing Compeyson. Clutched in each other's arms, Magwitch and Compeyson fall overboard. The packet steamer continues on. Then Magwitch swims toward the galley and is taken on board. Compeyson has drowned. Magwitch is immediately "manacled at the wrists and ankles." He has been seriously injured by the paddles of the steamer. Pip knows that Magwitch will not be treated leniently by a jury.


In Chapters 53 and 54 Dickens interrelates the theme of social class and ambition and the theme of uncertainty and deceit. However, the author does so in distinctly different ways in each chapter. In Chapter 53 Pip is uncertain about why someone wants him to come to the limekilns on the marshes. When he is accosted and bound by Orlick, Pip becomes uncertain whether he will live. Orlick has been harboring a grudge against Pip for causing the loss of his job. Since then Orlick claims he's had a hard time earning an easy living and, because of this, he has taken up with criminals. Therefore Orlick feels Pip has forced him from being a working-class man to be a lower-class criminal. Now, embittered by his drop in status, Orlick's main ambition in life is to kill Pip.

In contrast in Chapter 54, Pip is uncertain what will happen to him after he and Magwitch leave the country. He becomes uncertain about whether he and his friends are being watched as they row down the Thames. Eventually Pip's ambition of getting Magwitch safely out of England fails, and Magwitch is arrested. However, during the process, Pip reveals that he no longer views Magwitch with distaste and fear but instead feels affection for him. Therefore the barrier between the upper-class gentleman (Pip) and the lower-class former convict (Magwitch) has been dissolved by love. After the arrest Pip's main ambition changes to staying with Magwitch for the rest of his life. Pip says, "I will never stir from your side, ... when I am suffered to be near you. Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!" In this way Dickens reinforces the theme of Pip's redemption.

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