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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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THE NOVEL

THE PLOT

In a village cemetery, a small boy, Pip, is accosted by a
runaway convict who demands food and a file to saw off his
leg iron. Terrified, Pip steals the items from the home where he
has been living with his sister and her husband Joe since his
parents died. Soon after, the convict is recaptured when he
stops to fight with another fugitive out on the marshes; he
protects Pip, however, by saying that he stole the things from
the house himself.

Not long after this, Pip is invited to the gloomy home of rich,
eccentric Miss Havisham, who wants a boy to "play" for her
amusement. But Pip's real role at Miss Havisham's turns out to
be as a toy for Miss Havisham's adopted daughter, Estella, who
has been raised with one purpose-to break men's hearts, in
revenge for the time when Miss Havisham was deserted on her
wedding day years ago. Pip falls in love with Estella and
becomes self-conscious about his low social class and
unpolished manners. From then on, his abiding dream is to be a
gentleman. He is bitterly disappointed when he becomes a
teenager and Miss Havisham sees nothing better for him than
to become apprenticed to his brother-in-law Joe at his
blacksmith's forge. Also at the forge is Orlick, a slouching,
belligerent young man who attacks Pip's older sister, Mrs. Joe
Gargery, one night, leaving her dumb and paralyzed. Although
Pip sees no escape from this path of life, he confesses to Biddy,
the village girl who helps care for Mrs. Joe, that he still hopes
to become a gentleman and marry Estella.

Then a London lawyer, Jaggers, comes to the village to tell Pip
that he has come into a fortune from an anonymous source.
Because Pip once saw Jaggers at Miss Havisham's he
immediately assumes that she is his secret benefactor and that
she intends for him to marry Estella. Pip goes to London to
become a gentleman. His tutor is a cousin of Miss Havisham's,
Matthew Pocket, whose son Herbert becomes Pip's roommate
and best friend. Pip turns his back on Joe and Biddy,
embarrassed by his humble roots. Even when he goes home for
Mrs. Joe's funeral, he treats them in a condescending manner.
In London, he picks up extravagant habits, and both he and
Herbert get into debt. When Pip turns twenty-one, however, he
gets a regular allowance of five hundred pounds a year; the
first thing he does with this is to buy Herbert a partnership in a
shipping firm, without Herbert ever knowing who was
responsible.



Estella, who is now an elegant young lady, arrives in London
to begin to collect and torment suitors. Pip, who sees her often,
is outraged when she allows Bentley Drummle, a surly lout
from a rich aristocratic family, to hang around her. When he
complains to her, however, she reminds him that her goal in
life is to attract and humiliate men; Pip is the only one she does
not string along, and he should be grateful for that.

One dark stormy night, Pip gets a mysterious visitor: a gruff,
grizzled seafaring man. Just as Pip is about to throw him out,
he reveals himself as the convict Pip had helped that evening in
the cemetery. Then he proudly announces that he is Pip's secret
benefactor. After being deported to Australia, he made a
fortune, and sent it all back to England to make a gentleman
out of that little boy. Pip feels sick at heart, realizing that his
fortune didn't come from Miss Havisham after all, and there is
no plan to marry him to Estella. More than that, he is mortified
to learn that the source of his money is so base. Pip wants to
cut off his connection to the convict, Magwitch, as soon as
possible. But if the police discover Magwitch has returned to
England, he could be put to death. Feeling responsible, Pip
helps him hide out.

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