Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 55–56 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 55

Pip tells Mr. Jaggers not to let Magwitch know that his fortune will not be inherited by Pip but instead will be forfeited to the government. Because Pip has no legal tie to Magwitch, the young man can make no claim to Magwitch's funds and property. At Pip's residence Herbert informs Pip about having to leave soon for Cairo on business. Then Herbert asks if Pip would consider taking a position as a clerk at the Cairo office with the possibility of one day becoming a partner. Pip thanks Herbert for the offer and says he will consider it.

Near his residence Pip encounters Wemmick, who asks Pip to accompany him on a walk next Monday morning. Pip obliges. When Pip arrives at the Castle, he meets Wemmick and they go for a walk, with Wemmick carrying a fishing rod. Pip views this as odd because they are not going fishing, but he says nothing. As if by chance Wemmick and Pip make their way to a church and go inside. There Wemmick puts down the fishing rod and puts on a pair of white gloves. Pip then notices the Aged P. leading Miss Skiffins, also wearing white gloves, to the altar. Wemmick and Miss Skiffins get married with Pip serving as best man. After the ceremony Wemmick removes his white gloves and Miss Skiffins removes hers and puts on her green gloves. On the way out of the church, Wemmick picks up the fishing rod and tells Pip, "Let me ask you whether anybody would suppose this to be a wedding party!" After breakfast Wemmick asks Pip not to let Jaggers know about the marriage. Pip agrees.

Chapter 56

A very ill Magwitch is moved from the prison to the infirmary, where he awaits his trial. Pip visits him on a regular basis and sees Magwitch becoming "slowly weaker and worse." During the trial Magwitch sits at the front of the dock, and Pip sits near him outside the dock and holds his hand. Magwitch is found guilty and sentenced to death. Pip writes petitions to officials asking for a reprieve, but he expects none. Pip makes daily visits to Magwitch in the infirmary, where the convicted man waits for his execution. Magwitch's health continues to decline. Even so he expresses his gratitude to Pip for staying by him. One day, sensing that Magwitch is about to die, Pip tells him that his daughter lives and is a beautiful lady. Also Pip says he loves Magwitch's daughter. Unable to talk, Magwitch kisses Pip's hand and then dies.

Analysis

Dickens develops the theme of social class in Chapters 55 and 56. In Chapter 55 the author explores social dynamics. For example, Herbert has a difficult time asking whether Pip might take a job as a clerk in the Cairo office. Bringing up this subject is touchy because Herbert is asking Pip, a former upper-class gentleman, to take a middle-class job. Even though this job has a higher pay scale and status than Pip's work as a blacksmith's apprentice, Herbert still feels uneasy about offering the position. However, Pip shows no pride and says he will consider the offer. The author also places a final emphasis on Wemmick's determination to keep his private life separate from his work life. Wemmick concocts a charade that makes his wedding party seem like a fishing excursion to keep his marriage a secret from Jaggers.

In Chapter 56 Dickens shows the theme of social class through the pathetic, lower-class prisoners, including Magwitch, in the dock waiting to hear their verdicts. Pip says, "They were all formally doomed, and some of them were supported out, and some of them sauntered out with a haggard look of bravery." By grouping Magwitch with these prisoners, Dickens invites the reader to wonder how many of them grew up in harsh social conditions like Magwitch.

Chapters 55 and 56 both convey the theme of redemption through Pip's relationship with Magwitch. Dickens inserts the theme of deceit with Pip's redemption. Out of kindness Pip decides not to tell Magwitch the truth about his money and property being forfeited to the government instead of being inherited by him. However, Pip's redemption comes mainly through love. Pip has come to love Magwitch and so stays by the convicted man's side, despite any class differences between the two. Pip culminates this love by telling Magwitch his daughter lives. Then Pip adds, "And I love her!"

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