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Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Chapters 40–46

Summary Chapters 40–46

Upset beyond words, Pip walks the whole way back to London. At a gate close to his home, a night porter gives him a note from Wemmick, reading “don’t go home.”

Summary: Chapter 45

Afraid, Pip spends a night at a seedy inn called the Hummums. The next day, Pip finds Wemmick, who explains that he has learned through Jaggers’s office that Compeyson is pursuing Magwitch. He says that Herbert has hidden Magwitch at Clara’s house, and Pip leaves at once to go there.

Summary: Chapter 46

Upon arriving, he finds that Clara’s father is a drunken ogre and feels glad that he has helped Clara and Herbert escape him. He finds Magwitch upstairs and is surprised by the concern he now feels for the old convict’s safety; he even shields Magwitch from the news of Compeyson’s reappearance. Herbert and Pip discuss a plan to sneak Magwitch away on the river, and Pip begins to consider staying with his benefactor even after their escape. Pip buys a rowboat, keeping a nervous watch for the dark figure searching for Magwitch.

Analysis: Chapters 40–46

Throughout these chapters, Pip is again caught between powerful and conflicting feelings. When Joe visited London in Chapter 27, Pip was afraid both of how Joe would see his new life and of how the people in his new life would see Joe. Now, Pip is caught between his fear of Magwitch and his fear for Magwitch: he is afraid of the convict, but he also fears for Magwitch’s safety. The news of Compeyson’s arrival coincides with the appearance of the “man crouching in the corner” in the darkness on Pip’s stairs, making the danger suddenly seem very real.

Magwitch’s story of Compeyson also causes the two plotlines that have defined Pip’s life—that of the convict and that of Miss Havisham and Estella—to collapse into one. This means that the world of Pip’s secret guilt and the world of his highest aspiration share a common history, and the stark polarities in which Pip has always believed—the rigid lines separating good from evil and innocence from guilt—are suddenly threatened. Interestingly, when Pip goes to break off his relations with Estella and Miss Havisham in Chapter 44, only to find that Estella has abandoned him to marry Drummle, Miss Havisham seems to pity him. He says, “I saw Miss Havisham put her hand to her heart and hold it there, as she sat looking by turns at Estella and at me.” Even as he tries to preserve his sense of their world by leaving it, protecting it from being tainted by the world of Magwitch, he finds Estella and Miss Havisham changing. Despite his efforts, his romantic ideals may be impossible to preserve.

The story of Compeyson also highlights the theme of class differences that has run throughout the novel. Magwitch is a low-born orphan, but Compeyson is an educated man. As Magwitch says in Chapter 42, “He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson . . . He was a smooth one to talk, and was a dab at the ways of gentle-folks.” As a result, Compeyson was able to negotiate a light sentence at his trial, while the rough-edged Magwitch received a heavier one. Estella’s cruelty spurred Pip to desire social status, but Compeyson’s betrayal spurred Magwitch to desire something even more: Pip wished to become a gentleman, but Magwitch wished to “own” a gentleman, thus inspiring his plans for Pip.