Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 7–8 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 7

Pip becomes Joe's "odd-boy," or one who does odd jobs. The money Pip earns goes into Mrs. Joe's cash box and, therefore, is not spent by Pip. Pip attends a school, where he receives an inferior education. An orphan named Biddy assists Mr. Wopsle's great aunt by running a shop connected with the school. Biddy also helps Pip with his reading, writing, and arithmetic.

One night while Pip and Joe sit by the fire at home, Pip writes a letter to Joe and shows it to him. Although Pip's writing has many mistakes, Joe is very impressed by the letter and calls Pip a "scholar." Pip asks Joe why he never went to school. Joe explains that his father wouldn't allow it. Joe also explains that he married Pip's sister because he was lonely as a single man. Despite Mrs. Joe's harsh ways, Joe calls her a "fine figure of a woman." When Joe relates how he wanted to raise baby Pip in his home with Mrs. Joe, Pip is touched and hugs Joe. Joe agrees to be schooled by Pip but insists that it be kept a secret.

Mrs. Joe and Uncle Pumblechook arrive. Mrs. Joe relates the surprising news that a woman named Miss Havisham wants Pip to come to her house and play. No reason is given. Miss Havisham is an "immensely rich and grim old lady who lived in a large and dismal house ... and who led a life of seclusion." Both Pip and Joe are dumbstruck by the news.

Chapter 8

Uncle Pumblechook brings Pip to Miss Havisham's house, a dreary structure that has a "great many iron bars to it." The house also has an abandoned brewery attached. A proud, young lady comes to the gate and allows Pip to enter. But when Pumblechook expresses a desire to enter, she rebuffs him. The girl, who is about the same age as Pip, escorts the boy into the house and tells him the building is called Satis. The girl leads Pip to the second floor and leaves him in front of a door. Pip knocks, a voice says to enter, and he does so.

Pip finds himself in a dressing room lighted entirely by candles. No sunlight enters the room. He makes out a strange-looking woman seated by a dressing table. She is dressed in a wedding gown that has turned yellow with age. The woman appears as if she has not finished dressing because she has one shoe on and the other one off. Furthermore Miss Havisham looks like a combination of a waxwork and a skeleton with dark, sunken eyes. Miss Havisham beckons Pip to come. When he stands before her, he sees that her watch and a clock in the room have both stopped at 20 minutes to 9.

Miss Havisham places her hand over her heart and tells Pip it is broken. Then she commands Pip to play for her amusement. Dumbstruck by the weird surroundings Pip says he is unable to play. Miss Havisham orders Estella to play with Pip, but the idea revolts the girl, who says he is but a "common laboring-boy." However, Miss Havisham convinces Estella with the enticement that she can break his heart. They play cards, with Estella spewing insults about Pip's manners and appearance. Miss Havisham asks Pip what he thinks of Estella. Pip admits that she is proud and pretty but says she is insulting also and that he would like to go home.

After finishing their game, Estella takes Pip out to the yard and leaves to get him food. When she is gone, Pip cries about being insulted and feeling inferior. He then looks around the place and enters the brewery. There he sees what appears to be a woman hanging from the neck by a rope attached to a beam. The woman wears a faded wedding dress, has one shoe on and the other off, and gives the impression of trying to call Pip. Horrified, Pip runs haphazardly and glances back at the phantom, but it's gone. He leaves the brewery and eats some food provided by Estella. Before he leaves, Estella wonders why Pip doesn't cry some more and laughs contemptuously at him. On his way to Pumblechook's, Pip feels ashamed about being a "common laboring-boy."

Analysis

In Chapters 7 and 8 Dickens further develops the theme of social class and adds the concept of ambition to the social-class theme. First of all Dickens depicts Pip's life as an "odd-boy" or assistant to the blacksmith Joe. Mrs. Joe considers the position to be an excellent one, especially for ungrateful Pip. During the Victorian Age many people would most likely agree with Mrs. Joe about the benefits of this skilled, working-class job. It provides a steady income, even though most of it in Pip's case goes into a cash box. Also, in his position, Pip receives a basic education.

In addition Dickens satirizes the middle-class position of shopkeeper. According to the narrator's description, shopkeepers including the saddler, coachmaker, baker, grocer, and seed merchant (Uncle Pumblechook) seem like idle businessmen who spend most of their time observing other shops. The only shopkeeper who seems busy is the watchmaker.

Dickens introduces the upper class through the strange Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter, Estella. The author shows that the main trait of these characters is a sense of superiority. Estella constantly looks down on Pip as a common boy, which delights Miss Havisham. This woman appears to be a selfish, proud person who magnifies her own heartache to such an extreme that it dominates not only her life but also the lives of the people she comes in contact with. Because Miss Havisham views her own personal pain as so important and grievous, she tries to make time stop when her heart broke. All the clocks are frozen at 20 minutes to 9, and her dress and her room haven't changed since the day of her aborted wedding many years ago.

Through the poisonous influence of Miss Havisham, Estella has become a proud snob who insults Pip. By doing this Estella makes Pip feel inferior and thereby plants the seeds for his ambition. Indeed, when Pip cries from his shame he states, "The smart without a name, that needed counteraction." This counteraction eventually takes the form of ambition to rise in social status.

In addition to exploring the effects of social class and ambition, Dickens returns to the theme of uncertainty and deceit in Chapter 8. Pip feels uncertain about why Miss Havisham wants him to visit and by the weird situation at her house. This sense of uncertainty and fear reaches an apex when Pip sees the vision of a woman hanging by a rope from a beam. At Satis House Pip has entered an ambiguous, frightening world that will change his life. Miss Havisham suggests that deception is involved in this uncertain world when she whispers to Estella that she can break Pip's heart. Miss Havisham apparently has an agenda she is not sharing with Pip.

Dickens also introduces the symbol of tears in Chapters 7 and 8. In Chapter 7 Pip cries tears of gratefulness and affection when Joe says he always wanted to raise Pip in his home. These tears act as a bond that unites friends. In contrast, in the next chapter Pip cries tears of shame, hurt, and anger. These tears come from a sense of being separate in an inferior way from Estella.

In Chapter 8 Dickens presents another symbol, namely Satis House. As Estella explains, satis means "enough." For Estella the name implies "whoever had this house, could want nothing else." However, Pip discovers that the house represents much more. It is a house frozen in time by the pride and stubbornness of its owner. Satis House, therefore, represents a lack of change and growth, which could be seen as a form of death. Satis House also reflects what Miss Havisham values in life. The author depicts her as a proud person, who sees herself as being superior to those in lower social positions. Because of this, Estella under Miss Havisham's influence insults Pip for being a common boy. Indeed this pride of Miss Havisham in her status is so intense that she clings to it when jilted by her lover and blocks out any meaningful relationships. The result can be seen in Satis House: a barren, decaying structure with no life or joy.

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