This page provides a summary of the plot of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
The novel opens on Christmas Eve 1812. Whilst visiting the graves of his dead parents and siblings, a seven year old boy called Pip (the narrator of the novel), encounters an escaped convict. Pip now lives with his abusive older sister and her kind husband Joe Gargery, Joe is the local blacksmith. The convict scares Pip into stealing a file and some food, Pip does this and gives the convict the file, a pie and some brandy on Christmas morning. At the moment Pip’s theft is about to be discovered during Christmas dinner, some soldiers arrive and ask Joe to repair some shackles. Joe and Pip witness the recapture of the convict who is fighting another convict. The first convict confesses to stealing from the Blacksmiths.
A couple of years later, Miss Havisham an eccentric, wealthy old spinster who lives in the dilapidated Satis House asks Mr Pumlechoock (a distant relative of Joe Gargery) to find her a boy to visit the house. Pip visit Satis House and falls in love with her adopted daughter Estella. Estella with Miss Havisham’s encouragement remains hostile and aloof to Pip. Over the next few years Pip visits the Havishams regularly until he is old enough to learn a trade. On Pip’s last visit to Satis House Miss Havisham gives Joe the money for Pip to be bound as an apprentice blacksmith.
Joe’s obnoxious assistant, Dolge Orlick is jealous of Pip and hates Mrs Joe. When Pip and Joe are away from their home Mrs Joe is attacked the perpetrator is believed to be Dolge Orlick. Following the attack Mrs Joe is unable to speak or work and becomes kind hearted. Pip’s former school friend Biddy joins the Gargery household to help with Mrs Joe’s care.
Four years later Pip is an apprentice blacksmith working with Joe. Out of the blue Mr Jaggers a lawyer tells him that he has been provided with the money to become a gentleman and live in London from an anonymous benefactor. Before he leaves for London Pip visits Miss Havisham whom he assumes is the benefactor.
Pip moves to Barnard’s Inn in London with Herbert Pocket (the son of his tutor Matthew Pocket, the cousin of Miss Havisham). Herbert and Pip have previously met at Satis House, he tells Pip how Miss Havisham was defrauded and jilted by her fiancé. Pip then meets his fellow pupils including: Bentley Drummle (a brute from a wealthy noble family) and Startop (who is more agreeable).
Upon Joe’s visit to Barnard’s Inn, Pip is ashamed of him. Joe relays a message from Miss Havisham that Estella will be at Satis House for a visit. Pip then goes to meet Estella and is encouraged by the behaviour of Miss Havisham. Pip is concerned to see Dolge Orlick is now working as a servant to the Havishams, he tells Jaggers his misgivings and Jaggers promises that Orlick will be dismissed. Back in London Pip and Herbert share their romantic secrets, Pip about his love for Estella and Herbert about his engagement to Clara. In Richmond about to be presented to society for the first time Pip again meets Estella.
Mrs Joe dies and Pip returns to the village for her funeral. With the help of Jaggers Clerk Wemmick, Pip plans to help advance Herbert’s career by anonymously securing him a job at Clarriker’s a shipbroker. In London Pip is outraged when Bentley Drummle proposes a toast to Estella. Later at the Assembly Ball in Richmond, Pip witnesses Estella meeting Bentely and warns her off him. She replies that she has no qualms about entrapping him.
Just after Pip’s 23rd birthday he learns that his benefactor is in fact the convict he encountered at his parents graveside, Abel Magwitch. Magwitch was transported to New South Wales (Australia) as punishment for his earlier escape. Magwitch has gained his freedom and become a wealthy man, however he can’t return to England on pain of death. Magwitch does return to England and tells Pip he has been the motivation for his success. Pip is shocked and refuses to take any more or Magwitch’s money. Subsequently Pip and Herbert devise a plan to help Magwitch escape from England.Magwitch shares his past history with Pip, and reveals that the escaped convict whom he fought in the churchyard was Compeyson, the fraudster who had deserted Miss Havisham.
Pip pays a return visit to Satis House to visit Estella, there he encounters Bentley Drummle who is also visiting. Bentely now has Orlick as his servant. Pip accuses Miss Havisham of misleading him, letting him believe that she is his benefactor. She admits the deception and says her plan was to annoy her relatives. Pip declares his love for Estella, she coldly tells him she plans to marry Drummle. Pip is left heartbroken and walks back to London. Back in London Wemmick warns him that Compeyson is looking for him. Pip and Herbert continue to make plans for Magwitch’s escape.
At Jaggers's house for dinner, Wemmick tells Pip how Jaggers acquired his maidservant, Molly, rescuing her from the gallows when she was accused of murder.
Miss Havisham tells Pip how as a toddler Estella was brought to her by Jaggers and that she knows nothing of her parentage. Full of remorse she admits she raised Estella to be cold hearted. She tells Pip that Estella and Bentley are now married and gives Pip money to pay for Herbert’s position at Clarriker’s. She asks Pip to forgive her, as Pip is about to leave Miss Havisham accidently sets her dress on fire. Pip manages to save her but injures himself in the process. Miss Havisham eventually dies from her injuries. Furnished with all the information Pip deduces that Estella is Mollly and Magwitchs’ daughter. When questioned about this, Jaggers discourages Pip from acting on his suspicions.
Pip receives an anonymous letter, luring him to a sluice house, where he is seized by Orlick, who intends to kill him. Orlick confesses to assaulting Pip’s sister. Before Orlick has a chance to kill Pip he is rescued by Herbert and Startop.
Pip, Herbert and Startop pick up Magwitch and row him towards a steamboat departing London for Hamburg. Before Magwitch has time to make his escape the rowing boat is met by a police boat carrying Compeyson, who is helping the police to identify Magwitch. Magwitch grabs Compeyson and they fight in the river. Magwitch is seriously injured and is arrested by the police. Compeyson has drowned in the fight and his body is found later.
Pip knows that Magwitch will forfeit all his fortune to the crown after his trial. Herbert offers Pip a position at Clarriker’s office in Cairo, Egypt where he is about to start a new role managing their office. Pip regularly visits Magwitch in the prison hospital as he awaits his trial. On his deathbed Magwitch is told by Pip that his daughter Estella us alive.
After Herbert's departure for Cairo, Pip falls ill and faces arrest for his debts. However, Joe nurses him back to health and pays off his debt. Following his recovery Pip then returns to propose to Biddy, only to find that she has married Joe. Pip asks Joe's forgiveness, promises to repay him and leaves for Cairo. There he shares lodgings with Herbert and Clara, and eventually advances to become third in the company. Only then does Herbert learn that Pip paid for his position in the firm
Eleven years later Pip returns from Egypt to visit Joe, Biddy and their son Pip Jr. He also visit the ruins of Satis House where he meets the recently widowed Estella, who asks Pip to forgive her, assuring him that her heart has now been opened by misfortune. Pip and Estella leave the ruins together.