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Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Course Hero. "Great Expectations Study Guide." October 27, 2016. Accessed May 29, 2023.


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Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Charles Dickens's novel Great Expectations.

Great Expectations | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Great Expectations takes place in Kent and London, England, from about 1812 to 1840. As a seven-year-old child, Pip, the protagonist, looks over the graves of his parents in a cemetery on the marshes (identified by scholars as the Cooling Marshes, located in Kent, England). There he accidentally meets an escaped convict, who terrifies Pip and orders the boy to bring him food and a file. Pip lives with his older sister, Mrs. Joe, and her husband, Joe, a blacksmith. Mrs. Joe often beats Pip, but Joe has befriended the boy. Pip steals food and a file from home and takes them to the convict.

The following day Pip and Joe tag along with soldiers searching for two escaped convicts. They find Magwitch fighting another convict (Compeyson). To protect Pip, Magwitch tells the soldiers he stole food from a nearby blacksmith's shop.

A wealthy woman named Miss Havisham sends an invitation for Pip to visit her. Pip finds Miss Havisham to be a decrepit-looking recluse wearing a faded wedding dress. Pip plays cards with Estella, the recluse's adopted daughter. Estella views Pip as a common laboring boy and insults him.

Pip then begins to visit Miss Havisham on a regular basis, and Estella is instructed to play with Pip, often insulting him. Miss Havisham whispers to Estella that she can break Pip's heart. Pip quickly becomes infatuated with Estella and comes to view himself as inferior. One evening at a tavern, Pip meets a mysterious one-eyed man who has the file Pip gave to the convict. This man gives Pip two one-pound notes. At Satis House after playing with Estella, Pip meets a "pale young gentleman" and defeats him in a brief boxing match. Soon Pip's visits to Satis House make him ashamed of his home life. After Pip becomes an apprentice, he becomes ashamed of his work as well. One day Miss Havisham tells Pip that his services are no longer required.

Infected by Miss Havisham's influence, Pip develops a strong desire to become a "gentleman." Upon his next visit to Satis House, Pip learns Estella has gone away to France to be educated as a lady. Attacked by an unidentified assailant (Orlick, Joe's journeyman), Mrs. Joe becomes an invalid. A young woman named Biddy comes to nurse Mrs. Joe.

After several years a visiting lawyer named Mr. Jaggers tells Joe and Pip that an anonymous benefactor wants to pay for Pip to be educated as a gentleman. When Pip comes of age, he will be given considerable funds. Until that time Jaggers will be Pip's guardian. Amazed, Pip assumes Miss Havisham is his benefactress. She encourages Pip to have this view but admits nothing.

Pip heads to London and stays with a young man named Herbert Pocket, who turns out to be the "pale young gentleman" Pip boxed with. Herbert explains how Miss Havisham was jilted by her lover on her wedding day and since then has remained a recluse. Pip is tutored by Matthew Pocket, Herbert's father. Also Pip has two fellow students: Startop and Bentley Drummle, a snobbish young man from a wealthy family. Pip becomes friends with Jaggers's clerk, Wemmick.

Joe visits Pip in London. By this time Pip acts and lives like a gentleman. Because of these airs, he is uncomfortable about the crude-mannered Joe visiting him. Joe tells Pip that Miss Havisham wants him to visit her. When Pip visits Satis House, he sees Estella, who is now a beautiful lady. Returning to London, Pip feels more in love with Estella than ever and believes Miss Havisham intends Estella to be his wife. In addition Pip's lavish lifestyle has led to an accumulation of debt.

Mrs. Joe dies, and Pip briefly returns to the marshes to attend the funeral at Joe's house. On Pip's 21st birthday, Mr. Jaggers tells Pip he will now receive the funds his anonymous benefactor promised. In London Pip attends parties with Estella and continues to love her. However, Pip is tortured by Estella's coldness toward him.

Two years later Magwitch visits Pip at his residence. Magwitch tells a shocked Pipthat he is Pip's benefactor. Magwitch relates how he became rich in Australia and vowed to give his earnings to Pip to make him into a gentleman in gratitude for the boy's help. However, because Magwitch returned to England he could be arrested as a convict by the authorities even though he earned his freedom in Australia.

Realizing this, Pip and Herbert decide to keep Magwitch hidden. Feeling he owes Magwitch a great debt but also ashamed of his link to a criminal, Pip plans to leave the country with him. Magwitch explains how he came under the influence of a criminal named Compeyson, who deceived Magwitch.

While visiting Miss Havisham and Estella, Pip realizes that Estella plans to marry Drummle. Deeply hurt, Pip tells Miss Havisham that Estella has succeeded in breaking his heart.

Pip, Herbert, and Wemmick make plans to get Magwitch out of the country. Also Pip learns that Estella married Drummle and that her natural father is Magwitch. Pip visits Miss Havisham, who asks Pip to forgive her. After this plea Miss Havisham's dress catches fire, and Pip puts out the flames. Miss Havisham remains alive but weak. Orklick uses a note to lure Pip back to the marshes. There Orlick tries to kill Pip but fails.

Pip and Magwitch attempt to flee the country in a boat but are intercepted by a boat containing authorities and Compeyson. Magwitch and Compeyson struggle and fall into the river. Compeyson drowns; Magwitch survives but is severely injured. Because Magwitch has no official heirs, his fortune does not go to Pip but instead to the government. Magwitch is found guilty. The injured Magwitch stays in an infirmary, where he waits to be executed. There Pip tells Magwitch that his daughter is alive and that Pip loves her. Grateful to hear this news, Magwitch dies.

Pip falls seriously ill and is nursed back to health by Joe, who tells Pip that Miss Havisham has died. Soon Pip visits Joe at his home and realizes that he has come on the day Joe and Biddy are getting married. Pip has a renewed appreciation of his old friend, Joe.

After working for 11 years, Pip returns to visit Joe and Biddy, who have a boy named Pip. According to the revised ending, Pip visits the remains of Satis House, where he finds Estella. Before dying in an accident, Drummle had abused Estella. Pip and Estella show signs of staying together. According to the original ending, Pip and Joe's son walk through London, where they accidentally meet Estella. Drummle is dead, and Estella has remarried a kind doctor. Estella kisses Joe's son and show signs of a loving heart. Pip and Estella then part.

Great Expectations Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Pip meets Magwitch, a convict.

Rising Action

2 Pip meets Miss Havisham and falls in love with Estella.

3 Pip wants Miss Havisham's and Estella's social approval.

4 Pip takes unnamed benefactor's offer to raise Pip's station.

5 Pip assumes Miss Havisham is benefactor.

6 Pip becomes snobbish and treats Joe Gargery badly.

7 Pip learns that Magwitch is his benefactor.

8 Pip learns Estella is to marry Drummle.

9 Pip learns Estella is Magwitch's daughter.

10 Miss Havisham asks forgiveness, and her dress catches fire.


11 Pip fails to get Magwitch out of the country.

Falling Action

12 Pip tells Magwitch his daughter is alive and Pip loves her.

13 Pip falls ill and is nursed back to health by Joe.

14 Pip reestablishes his friendship with Joe.


15 Pip meets Estella and plans to stay with her.

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