Summary: Chapter 17
Biddy moves in to help nurse Mrs. Joe. Pip visits Satis House again and notices how bleak it is without Estella. He walks with Biddy on Sunday and confides to her his dissatisfaction with his place in life. Although he seems to be attracted to Biddy, he tells her the secret of his love for Estella. When Biddy advises him to stay away from Estella, Pip is angry with her, but he still becomes very jealous when Orlick begins trying to flirt with her.
Summary: Chapter 18
At the pub one evening, Pip sits in a crowd listening to Wopsle read the story of a murder trial from a newspaper. A stranger begins questioning Wopsle about the legal details of the case. Pip recognizes him as the large, dark man he met on the stairs at Miss Havisham’s (in Chapter
Pip’s fondest wish has been realized, and he assumes that his benefactor must be Miss Havisham—after all, he first met Jaggers at her house, and his tutor will be Matthew Pocket, her cousin. Joe seems deflated and sad to be losing Pip, and he refuses Jaggers’s condescending offer of money. Biddy is also sad, but Pip adopts a snobbish attitude and thinks himself too good for his surroundings. Still, when Pip sees Joe and Biddy quietly talking together that night, he feels sorry to be leaving them.
Summary: Chapter 19
Pip’s snobbery is back in the morning, however, as he allows the tailor to grovel over him when he goes in for a new suit of clothes. Pip even allows Pumblechook to take him out to dinner and ingratiate himself. He tries to comfort Joe, but his attempt is obviously forced, and Biddy criticizes him for it. Preparing to leave for London, he visits Miss Havisham one last time; based on her excitement and knowledge of the details of his situation, Pip feels even more certain that she is his anonymous benefactor. After a final night at Joe’s house, Pip leaves for London in the morning, suddenly full of regret for having behaved so snobbishly toward the people who love him most.
Analysis: Chapters 17–19
As Pip enters adolescence, Dickens gradually changes the presentation of his thoughts and perceptions. When Pip was a young child, his descriptions emphasized his smallness and confusion; beginning around Chapter
Just as Orlick is an immediate contrast to Joe, Biddy emerges in this section as a contrasting figure to Estella. Her plainness, frankness, and kindness are diametrically opposed to Estella’s cold beauty, dishonesty, and cruelty. Pip seems to feel a natural attraction to Biddy, but his overpowering passion for Estella makes him use Biddy only as a means to an end, as a confidante and a teacher.
Pip’s desire to elevate his social standing never leaves him; he even seeks to better his surroundings by trying to teach Joe to read. When the ominous figure of the lawyer Jaggers appears with the message of Pip’s sudden fortune, the young man’s deepest wish comes true. But the exultant Pip is not content simply to enjoy his good fortune; rather, he reads more into it than he should, deciding that “Miss Havisham intended me for Estella” and that she must be his benefactor. His adolescent self-importance causes him to put on airs and act snobbishly toward Joe and Biddy, a character flaw that Pip will demonstrate throughout Great Expectations. In his career as a gentleman, he will cover up moments of uncertainty and fear by acting, as he says in Chapter
In part, this poor behavior is caused by the same character trait that causes Pip to covet self-advancement. Pip has a deep-seated strain of romantic idealism, and as soon as he can imagine something better than his current condition (whether material, emotional, or moral), he immediately desires that improvement: when he sees Satis House, he longs for wealth; when he meets Estella, he longs for love and beauty; and when he acts poorly, he feels a powerful guilt that amounts to a longing to have acted more morally. This is the psychological center of the novel’s theme of self-improvement. But Pip’s romantic idealism is inherently unrealistic. Whatever he might wish, it is impossible to become a gentleman overnight and never again be a common boy, to immediately forget one’s old friends, family, and surroundings, and to abruptly change one’s inner self.
When Pip suddenly receives his fortune, he experiences a moment in which his romantic ideal seems to have come true. But the impediments remain, and Pip is forced to contend with the entanglements of his affection for his family and his home. Feeling his emotions clash, Pip is unsure how to behave, so he gives in fully to his romantic side and tries to act like a wealthy aristocrat—a person, he imagines, who would be snobbish to Joe and Biddy. Though he is at heart a very good person, Pip has not yet learned to value human affection and loyalty above his immature vision of how the world ought to be. In this section and throughout the novel, behaving snobbishly is a way for Pip to simplify the complicated emotional situations in which he finds himself as he attempts to impose his immature picture of the world on the real complexities of life.
When Pip moves to London, a new stage in his life begins. As we are told at the end of Chapter