Pip’s twenty-first birthday finally arrives, meaning that he is an adult and will begin to receive a regular income from his fortune rather than having to go to Jaggers to access his money. He feels a great sense of excitement, because he hopes that his entrance into adulthood will cause Jaggers to tell him the identity of his mysterious benefactor. Despite Herbert’s warning, he feels increasingly certain that it is Miss Havisham and that she means for him to marry Estella. But during their interview, Jaggers is cold and brief; he reveals nothing about the source of Pip’s fortune, simply telling him that his income will be five hundred pounds a year and refusing to take responsibility for the outcome. For some reason, the encounter reminds Pip of his meeting with the convict in the graveyard so many years before. Still, Pip invites Jaggers to participate in his birthday dinner, but Jaggers’s oppressive presence makes the evening less enjoyable for Pip and Herbert.
Upon receiving his income, Pip decides to help Herbert by buying Herbert’s way into the merchant business. He asks Wemmick for advice. At Jaggers’s office (in Chapter 36), Wemmick cynically advises Pip not to help Herbert, but later, at the Castle (where Pip also meets Wemmick’s girlfriend, Miss Skiffins), he jovially offers exactly the opposite advice and agrees to help Pip with the scheme. They find a merchant in need of a young partner, and Pip buys Herbert the partnership. Everything is all arranged anonymously, so that Herbert, like Pip, does not know the identity of his benefactor.
Pip’s twenty-first birthday marks his official transition to adulthood (Jaggers even begins calling him “Mr. Pip”). Jaggers’s refusal to comply with Pip’s wishes to know the truth about his benefactor is a bad omen, one borne out in the next section with the arrival of the convict and the downfall of Pip’s greatest expectations.
Even though Pip is still self-critical, he has legitimately matured into early adulthood and developed more sympathetic qualities. His decision to use his large income to help Herbert—being “very desirous,” as he says, “to serve a friend”—allows him to share his good fortune with a friend in need. Ironically, Pip adopts secrecy even as he is most anxious to know the identity of his own secret benefactor. Of course, he still believes his benefactor to be Miss Havisham, and he even accounts for Jaggers’s refusal to talk with the ridiculous deduction that “Miss Havisham had not taken him into her confidence as to her designing me for Estella; that he resented this, and felt a jealousy about it.” That Pip imagines the hard, powerful Jaggers feeling jealousy over anything involving Pip illustrates the extent to which Pip must delude himself to believe that Miss Havisham truly intends for him to marry Estella. It is obvious to the reader and to all the other characters in the book that Miss Havisham has no such idea in mind, but Pip remains blinded by love and continues to equate his social advancement with romantic advancement.
This section also continues to develop the character of Wemmick. The bizarre clerk’s two distinct sides become even more sharply divided in this section, as office-Wemmick advises Pip not to help Herbert, while Walworth-Wemmick wholeheartedly endorses the plan. Wemmick even acknowledges the split, saying in Chapter 36 that “my Walworth sentiments must be taken at Walworth; none but my official sentiments can be taken at this office.” Pip’s introduction to Miss Skiffins, Wemmick’s girlfriend (and future bride), in Chapter 37 allows Dickens to make an even more sentimental character out of Wemmick, but it also highlights Pip’s own romantic troubles. His love for Estella remains desperately impractical, and, as the next section demonstrates, his relationship with her has become humiliating in an entirely new way.