Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

Chapters 20–26

Summary Chapters 20–26

Summary: Chapter 26

By contrast, Jaggers’s house is oppressive and dark, shared only with a gloomy housekeeper, Molly. Pip’s fellow students attend the dinner at Jaggers’s with Pip, and Pip and Drummle quarrel over a loan Drummle ungratefully borrowed from Startop. Jaggers warns Pip to stay away from Drummle, though the lawyer claims to like the disagreeable young man himself.

Analysis: Chapters 20–26

Structurally, this series of brief, quick chapters inaugurates the second phase of Great Expectations, marked by Pip’s receiving his new fortune and his move from Kent to London. Pip’s move to London marks a drastic shift of setting for the second main section of Great Expectations, away from the desolate marshes of Kent and into the teeming crowds of the city. Dickens, with his consummate knowledge of the London of his era, evokes the city masterfully, describing the stink, the run-down buildings, and the colorful mass of humanity through Pip’s stunned perceptions. One of the first things Pip sees after his arrival in London is the terrible gallows of Newgate Prison, which gives Pip “a sickening idea of London.” In a novel that places so much emphasis on the relationship between character and setting, it should come as no surprise that Pip encounters objects of punishment and justice everywhere he looks. Beneath his awkward desire to be a gentleman and advance socially, Pip is obsessed with ideas of guilt, innocence, and moral obligation, going all the way back to his first encounter with the convict in the marsh. The gallows evokes not only the memory of the convict, but also the themes of guilt and innocence that preoccupy Pip’s young mind.

Pip’s new acquaintances are unlike anyone he has ever known before, and they make his transformation into a gentleman an unpredictable one. Jaggers is hard, cold, and powerful, but beneath the surface he seems disgusted by his own work. In Chapter 20, he does not allow his clients to talk to him, and he scrubs his hands ferociously at the end of each workday, symbolically attempting to remove the moral taint of his work. Herbert (the “pale young gentleman” of Chapter 11) makes a natural contrast to the lawyer; he is everything Jaggers is not. Kind, relaxed, and poor, he is the perfect gentleman to educate Pip in the ways of the upper class. Herbert’s father, Matthew, is kind as well, but his absentminded carelessness makes him a weak figure even in his own household. Of his students, Drummle is an oaf and Startop is a weakling. Wemmick’s split personality—he acts hard and cynical in Jaggers’s office but wry and merry at home in Walworth—confuses Pip, but it also emphasizes the inner goodness beneath Wemmick’s callous exterior. His insistence on obtaining “portable property” and his good-natured teasing of his “Aged Parent” give him two of his most memorable catchphrases, which he uses throughout the novel.

The story of Miss Havisham mirrors some of the same themes—social class, romantic anguish, and criminality—that run throughout the main story of the book. The story explains the main mystery of Miss Havisham’s life, which was implied by her surroundings and her behavior much earlier in the novel. It answers many of Pip’s questions about her but raises many more. Who were the criminals who preyed on her, and what became of them? What is Estella’s history, and how is she related to Miss Havisham? As the novel progresses, these questions will become extremely important; for now, they are used primarily to continue the sense of mystery that is so important to the forward momentum of Dickens’s plot.