When Pip meets Estella, he is again troubled by her resemblance to someone he can’t place. She treats Pip arrogantly, but sends him into ecstatic joy when she refers to their “instructions,” which makes him feel as though they are destined to be married. After he escorts her through the gaslit London night to the house at which she is staying, he returns to the Pockets’ home.
Pip feels terribly guilty for his snobbish treatment of Joe and Biddy, and he feels as though his degenerate lifestyle has been a bad influence on Herbert. The two young men catalog their debts, but they are interrupted by a letter carrying the news that Mrs. Joe has died.
Pip is surprised by the intensity of his sadness about his sister’s death. He returns home at once for the funeral. He meets Pumblechook, who continues to fawn over him irritatingly. He tries to mend his relations with Joe and Biddy; Biddy is skeptical of his pledges to visit more often. Pip says goodbye to them the next morning, truly intending to visit more often, and walks away into the mist.
These chapters cover a dark and humiliating time for Pip. Ironically, Pip’s dizzying rise in social status is accompanied by a sharp decline in his confidence and happiness. He is humiliated in no fewer than four important scenes in this section. First, Joe’s visit to London reintroduces the theme of social contrast, showing just how awkward Pip’s position between the social classes has become; he worries both that Joe will disapprove of his new life and that the figures in his new life will disapprove of Joe. Second, he is frightened by the convicts in the coach, who remind him of his childhood encounter on the marsh. Third, even his return home is keenly embarrassing, as he learns of Pumblechook’s false boast and finds himself mocked by the tailor’s apprentice in Chapter 30. And, fourth, most painful of all, what he hopes will be a triumphant return to Satis House as a gentleman is a complete failure: Estella treats him just as cruelly as ever, reminding him coldly that she has “no heart.”
Pip’s behavior throughout this period is not admirable: he treats Joe with barely disguised hostility during Joe’s visit to London, and he behaves haughtily and coldly throughout this section. The difference between Pip the character and Pip the narrator becomes clear here. When he visits Satis House, Pip the character feels irritated and unhappy at the thought of visiting Joe, but Pip the narrator judges himself harshly for having felt that way, writing “God forgive me!” in Chapter 29. As a character, Pip is in the grip of his immediate emotions, but as a narrator, he has the capacity to look at his life from a broader perspective and to judge himself. Dickens uses that contrast well, giving Pip the wisdom of hindsight without sacrificing the immediacy of his story.
Pip’s guilt over his behavior toward Joe and Biddy reaches a high point at Mrs. Joe’s funeral. He is stunned by the news of his sister’s death. More than anyone else except for Joe, Mrs. Joe raised Pip, and her death marks an important point in his maturation toward adulthood and the development of his character. He tries to rectify his behavior toward his lower-class loved ones, but they are skeptical of his promises to improve, and with good reason. Pip really does mean to visit them more, as he promises Biddy in Chapter 35, but when he leaves, he walks into the rising mists, which symbolize ambiguity and confusion throughout Great Expectations; even he knows he is unlikely to honor his promise.