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Great Expectations

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

A Stranger Comes to town

Six-year-old Pip and his blacksmith brother-in-law Joe are the best of friends, chilling on the marshes and keeping each other safe from Mrs. Joe's temper tantrums. They go on field trips together on Sundays, and at night they have a bread and butter eating contest. And then two things happen to set us up for some short- and long-term conflict: Pip meets (and helps) a convict, and Pip gets invited to play at the house of resident rich, crazy lady, Miss Havisham.

Conflict

Just a Small Town Boy

At Miss Havisham's, Pip is scorned, mocked, and treated like a dog, what fun! Still, little Pip falls head over heels for Miss Havisham's little "niece," Estella. She makes fun of his "thick boots" and "coarse hands," so Pip obviously decides that he needs to become a gentleman, stat.

Complication

Be Careful What You Wish For

Since becoming a gentleman seems pretty unlikely, Pip tries to get comfy in his blacksmithing gig. Just when he realizes he can envision a life on the marshes after all, a mysterious stranger shows up and announces that—surprise!—he has a mysterious benefactor who has left him a fortune in money and land. Now, Pip gets to—nay, has to—move to London to become a gentleman. Sweet!

Well, not really. Turns out, being a gentlemen comes with a lot of problems, although Pip does meet some nice people and reunites with Estella, who is now totally beautiful and also just as scornful as ever.

Climax

Drumroll, Please

On his 23rd birthday, Pip's benefactor unexpectedly arrives. It is … the convict! This means that Pip has not been financed and supported by Miss Havisham, and that he's not destined for Estella after all. His fortune is born out of money earned by an exiled convict—who's acting like he's here to stay.

Suspense

Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You?

Pip and his friend Herbert concoct a plan to get the convict out of the country—he's got a price on his head—but the night before the boys make their great escape, Pip decides to heed a mysterious and threatening letter that tells him to come to the marshes to learn some valuable tidbits about his benefactor. Obviously, it's a trap, and Pip is nearly hammered to death and thrown in the limekiln by town bully Orlick.

Wrinkle #2 comes when Pip & co. embark on a rowboat adventure to the open water where Pip and Magwitch will stow away on an outbound ship. Just before they reach their goal, villain Compeyson brings the police around and the escape is thwarted.

Denouement

Wedding Day … Not

After Magwitch dies in jail, Pip gets really sick. Joe nurses him back to health, but leaves when Pip recovers. Pip returns home to the marshes to find Joe and Biddy on their wedding day. He begs their forgiveness, eats some cake, and then moves to Egypt.

Conclusion

Pip, Meet Pip

When Pip returns home after eleven years, he finds a mini Pip sitting by the fire with Joe. Pip becomes enamored with the idea of being Uncle Pip. Pip also sees Estella, and he either (1) marries her, or (2) never sees her again. Either way, there's resolution, and we know that Pip's self-destructive, family-ignoring ways are far behind him.

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