Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9

After Pip returns home from Miss Havisham's, Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook grill the boy about his experience at Satis House. Thinking that they would not believe the truth, Pip spins a fantastic lie about his time with Miss Havisham. Although amazed, Pumblechook says he has heard that Miss Havisham is eccentric, so he and Mrs. Joe come to accept Pip's story as fact.

Mrs. Joe tells Pip's story to Joe, which mortifies the boy. He feels bad about telling a lie to a person he cares about. When Pip and Joe are alone in the forge, Pip tells his friend the whole story was a lie. Joe is upset that his good friend would tell a falsehood, and Pip feels guilty. Then Pip relates how miserable and common he feels.

Chapter 10

Pip decides to improve himself in an attempt to become "uncommon" in Estella's eyes. To accomplish this goal, he asks Biddy to teach him. She willingly agrees and begins to tutor Pip.

One evening Pip goes to the local tavern to bring Joe home. In the tavern Pip joins Joe, Mr. Wopsle, and an unusual, secretive stranger near the kitchen fire. The stranger learns what Joe's last name is and then buys rum for Joe, Mr. Wopsle, and himself. The stranger also seems intent on finding out Pip's relation to Joe, which is explained. When the drinks are served, the stranger uses a file to stir his rum in a way only Pip can see. To his shock Pip realizes the file is the same one he stole from Joe. As Joe and Pip are about to leave, the stranger gives Pip a shilling wrapped in paper. When Joe and Pip arrive home, Mrs. Joe discovers that the paper used to wrap the shilling is really two one-pound notes.

Analysis

In both Chapters 9 and 10 Dickens develops the theme of uncertainty and deceit. When Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook grill Pip about Miss Havisham, the boy is uncertain how to respond. Pip feels the truth is too unbelievable. Added to this, Pip becomes angry at Pumblechook's attempts to get him to reveal details about Miss Havisham. Therefore uncertainty mixed with anger spurs Pip to spin an elaborate lie about riding coaches with Miss Havisham and Estelle. He feels no guilt about this lie because he does not love Mrs. Joe or Pumblechook. However, once again Pip feels the keenest guilt about telling the lie to Joe because he loves the blacksmith. Thus for Pip the desire to tell the truth comes from the tangible love of a person, not from a moral principle.

During the scene at the tavern, Pip comes into contact with a different kind of uncertainty and deceit. He meets a person who tries to hide who he really is from Joe and Mr. Wopsle while providing a tantalizing hint to Pip—the file the stranger uses to stir his drink. Pip identifies the file as the one he stole and so connects the stranger to the convict on the marshes. However, this connection makes Pip even more uncertain. He wonders why a person who knows this convict is in a tavern acting secretively and why he gives Pip a shilling wrapped in two one-pound notes.

In Chapters 9 and 10 Dickens also develops the theme of social class and ambition. Pip admits feeling that Joe and Mrs. Joe are "common" in comparison to Estella and Miss Havisham. Pip states, "How common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith." Before Pip went to Satis House, he was content being an apprentice to a blacksmith and felt no inferiority about this position or about Joe and Mrs. Joe. For Pip the sense of inferiority comes solely from the contrast between his family and Miss Havisham and Estella. Because of this, Pip becomes ambitious to move from the working class to the upper class. In contrast Joe views being uncommon as having nothing to do with social class but instead with the integrity of a person. For Joe lying is common and so cannot be used to make a person uncommon. Joe says, "If you can't get to be oncommon through going straight, you'll never get to do it through going crooked. So don't tell no more on 'em, Pip, and live well and die happy." However, even though Pip agrees with Joe, he cannot get rid of the need to appear uncommon in the eyes of upper-class Miss Havisham and Estella. As a result he asks Biddy to tutor him in an attempt to improve himself and become less common according to the standards of the upper class.

Dickens introduces the symbol of money when the stranger gives Pip a shilling and two one-pound notes. Throughout the novel money represents something of importance that often leads to disappointment. In this case the stranger giving money to Pip is obviously significant, but the meaning of this action is not yet known.

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