Summary: Chapter 4

As he returns home, Pip is overwhelmed by a sense of guilt for having helped the convict. He even expects to find a policeman waiting for him at Joe’s house. When Pip slips into the house, he finds no policemen, only Mrs. Joe busy in the kitchen cooking Christmas dinner. Pip eats breakfast alone with Joe. The two go to church; Mrs. Joe, despite her moralizing habits, stays behind.

Christmas dinner is an agonizing affair for Pip, who is crowded into a corner of the table by his well-to-do Uncle Pumblechook and the church clerk, Mr. Wopsle. Terrified that his sneaking out of the house to help the convict will be discovered, Pip nearly panics when Pumblechook asks for the brandy and finds the bottle filled with tar-water. His panic increases when, suddenly, several police officers burst into the house with a pair of handcuffs.

Summary: Chapter 5

My convict looked round him for the first time, and saw me. . . .

See Important Quotes Explained

Pip is sure that the policemen have come to arrest him, but all they want is for Joe to fix their handcuffs. The bumbling policemen tell Pip and Joe that they are searching for a pair of escaped convicts, and the two agree to participate in the manhunt. Seeing the policemen, Pip feels a strange surge of worry for “his” convict.

After a long hunt, the two convicts are discovered together, fighting furiously with one another in the marsh. Cornered and captured, Pip’s convict protects Pip by claiming to have stolen the food and file himself. The convict is taken away to a prison ship and out of Pip’s life—so Pip believes—forever.

Summary: Chapter 6

Joe carries Pip home, and they finish their Christmas dinner; Pip sleepily heads to bed while Joe narrates the scene of the capture to Mrs. Joe and the guests. Pip continues to feel powerfully guilty about the incident—not on his sister’s account, but because he has not told the whole truth to Joe.

Summary: Chapter 7

After the incident, some time passes. Pip lives with his guilty secret and struggles to learn reading and writing at Mrs. Wopsle’s school. At school, Pip befriends Biddy, the granddaughter of the teacher. One day, Joe and Pip sit talking; the illiterate Joe admires a piece of writing Pip has just done. Suddenly, Mrs. Joe bursts in with Pumblechook. Highly self-satisfied, they reveal that Pumblechook has arranged for Pip to go play at the house of Miss Havisham, a rich spinster who lives nearby. Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook hope she will make Pip’s fortune, and they plan to send him home with Pumblechook before he goes to Miss Havisham’s the next day. The boy is given a rough bath, dressed in his suit, and taken away by Pumblechook.

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Analysis: Chapters 4–7

In addition to the introduction of the convict, the other important plot development in the early chapters of Great Expectations occurs at the very end of Chapter 7, when Pip learns he is to be taken to Miss Havisham’s to play. His introduction to Miss Havisham and her world will determine a great part of his story and will change him forever. Though Pip has no sense of the importance of the event, Dickens conveys its importance to the reader through Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook, who are obviously ecstatic at the idea of Pip befriending the wealthy old woman. This is the first hint in the novel of the theme of social class and social improvement, which will quickly become the dominant idea.

Read an in-depth analysis of Miss Havisham.

Because he spends the first several chapters of the book exclusively among those of his own social station, the theme of social class is not particularly important in this section. But Pip’s low social standing makes itself felt in subtle ways—in the colloquial dialect spoken by Joe and his sister, the mean ambition of Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook, and the ineffective rigor of his country school (where he is taught by Mr. Wopsle’s great aunt), for example. By describing Pip’s early education, Dickens continues to emphasize the idea of self-improvement. Just as Pip’s behavior indicates a desire for moral improvement and Mrs. Joe’s ambition indicates a desire for social improvement, Pip’s struggle to learn to read indicates a desire for intellectual and educational improvement. To emphasize this point, Dickens contrasts Pip’s meager knowledge with the ignorance of Joe, who admires Pip’s poor writing because he himself is unable to read or write.

Read more about social class as a theme.

Dickens also uses this scene to develop Pip’s special relationship with Joe. Although Joe is not Pip’s father or even his brother, he is the most caring person in his life—a simple, honest man. Dickens contrasts Joe’s earnest good nature with the grasping ambition and self-satisfaction of Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe, implying even at this early stage of the novel that real self-improvement (the kind that leads to goodness) is not connected to social advancement or even education, but rather stems from honesty, empathy, and kindness. Pip will spend fifty chapters learning this lesson himself, and will then be struck by the fact that, in the figure of Joe, the best example had been in front of him all along.

Read an in-depth analysis of Joe Gargery.

As he did in the first three chapters, throughout this section Dickens demonstrates a masterful ability to tell his story effectively without ever losing the perspective of childhood. Though the novel itself is narrated by the adult Pip remembering his life, Pip the character is still a little boy in these chapters, and the narrator comically and sympathetically conveys his immature impressions. At the Christmas dinner in Chapter 4, for instance, Pip is terrified that his secret will be found out, but he balances his fear with a deep desire to tweak Mr. Wopsle’s large nose—to “pull it until he howled.” His sense of guilt for sneaking behind his guardians’ backs is so great that he believes the whole world is busy trying to discover his secret, and he fully expects to “find a constable in the kitchen, waiting to take me up.”

Read more about the novel’s humorous style.