Pip, a young orphan boy living with his sister and her husband Joe, is approached by a convict out on the marshes who demands Pip provide him with food and a file with which he can saw off his leg irons. Pip hurries home to retrieve the necessary items, but is unable to get away from the Christmas Eve festivities. The next morning, Pip returns to the marshes only to encounter a second, different convict, who flees; when Pip relays this to the first convict, the man appears troubled.
During Christmas dinner, Pip panics that his sneaking out of the house to help the convict will be discovered. To his relief, the convicts are apprehended and taken away to a prison ship, though Pip continues to feel guilty. Sometime after the incident, Pip’s Uncle Pumblechook reveals that he has arranged for Pip to go play at the house of Miss Havisham, a rich spinster who lives nearby, and that Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook hope she will make Pip’s fortune.
Pip visits Miss Havisham’s manor, Satis House, and plays cards with Estella, who criticizes Pip for his low social class. When Pip returns home, he lies about his experience, revealing the truth only to Joe, who tells Pip he must be honest if he wants to succeed in life. Later on, Pip goes to a pub to bring Joe home and sees a man stirring a drink with the same file Pip stole for the convict; Pip’s guilt and sense of unease return.
Pip is taken back to Miss Havisham’s house where he plays cards with Estella and gets into a fight with a young man, after which Estella allows him to kiss her on the cheek. Pip continues to visit Miss Havisham regularly for the next several months, becoming more distant from his family and hopeful that Miss Havisham means to make him a gentleman. However, Pip is disappointed to discover that Miss Havisham never intended to do so, and that he is to become Joe’s apprentice instead.
Pip begins working at Joe’s forge, where he is tormented by Joe’s forge worker, Orlick. One day while visiting Miss Havisham, Pip is disappointed to learn that Estella has been sent abroad. On his walk home, he hears gunfire from the prison ships, and discovers Mrs. Joe has been attacked and has sustained brain damage. Pip’s friend Biddy deduces that it may have been Orlick who attacked Mrs. Joe, but when Orlick meets with her, she doesn’t denounce him, instead appearing eager to see him.
At the pub one evening, a man Pip recognizes from Miss Havisham’s manor introduces himself as the lawyer Jaggers, and explains that Pip will soon inherit a large fortune from a benefactor whose identity he must never know. Pip assumes Miss Havisham is his secret benefactor and, now that he’s about to attain the wealth he’s always craved, begins acting snobbishly towards his loved ones. When he finally leaves for London to begin his new life, however, he regrets his behavior.
When Pip arrives in London, he is introduced to Herbert Pocket, the son of Pip’s tutor and the boy that Pip once fought in the garden at Satis House. Herbert teaches Pip how to be a gentleman and tells Pip the story of Miss Havisham. Pip continues to get to know his fellow students and the Pockets, attending dinners with both Jaggers and his clerk, Wemmick.
Pip travels home for a visit, and winds up sharing a coach with a convict he recognizes, which terrifies him. Pip’s reunion with Estella does not go well, and when he returns to London, Herbert consoles Pip, explaining that he, too, is in love with a woman named Clara, but he is too poor to marry her. Pip receives word that Mrs. Joe has died and returns home once more for the funeral, where he attempts to mend relations with Joe and Biddy after treating them poorly.
Chapters 36 & 37
Pip turns twenty-one; he’s now able to receive a regular income from his fortune. Pip takes this opportunity to ask Jaggers about the identity of his benefactor, yet Jaggers does not reveal any details other than the amount of money Pip will be receiving yearly. Pip then uses his money to find Herbert a partnership, which he does so anonymously, so that Herbert, like Pip, does not know the identity of his benefactor.
Chapters 38 & 39
Pip spends a lot of time with Estella and believes it’s Miss Havisham’s wish that the two ultimately marry, but he is troubled by the presence of Estella’s various suitors, including the unpleasant Drummle. One night when Pip is twenty-three, he’s approached by the convict he helped as a boy; he’s on the run again, and Pip learns that the convict, not Miss Havisham, has actually been his benefactor all along. Pip, though fearful and disappointed, agrees to help him hide.
When Herbert returns, Pip explains the situation, and the convict, Abel Magwitch, tells the two men his life story—how he needed money for survival and got mixed up with a criminal named Compeyson, the man who swindled Miss Havisham and left her at the altar. Pip visits Satis House and tells Estella he loves her, but she informs him she’s going to marry Drummle. The next day, Pip learns Compeyson is looking for Magwitch, and Pip and Herbert concoct a plan to help Magwitch escape.
Pip deduces that Jaggers’s housekeeper, Molly, is Estella’s mother. When Pip visits Satis House, Miss Havisham expresses regret for how she’s treated Pip and catches fire; Pip saves her life, though she’s badly injured. He returns to London and Herbert informs him that Magwitch is Molly’s former husband and thus Estella’s father, prompting Pip to ask Jaggers for the full story of Estella’s parentage, after which he receives an anonymous note asking to meet him on the marshes.
Pip is surprised to find that the mysterious message came from Orlick, who admits he attacked Mrs. Joe to get revenge on Pip and lunges at him, but Pip is saved by the timely arrival of Herbert and a group of men. Pip returns to London to carry out Magwitch’s escape plan but Compeyson arrives, causing the two convicts to fight, Compeyson to die, and Magwitch to be apprehended by police. While Magwitch is awaiting sentencing, Pip tells him his daughter, Estella, is alive, allowing Magwitch to die peacefully.
Pip becomes ill after Magwitch’s death and is nursed back to health by Joe, who relays to him news from home: Miss Havisham has died and the fugitive Orlick has been arrested. Pip accompanies Joe back to his childhood home, where he discovers that Biddy and Joe are married. Eleven years later, Pip has made a modest living working with Herbert, and one day while visiting Satis House, Pip reunites with the recently widowed Estella; the two reminisce about their past, exiting the garden together.