Fitting Great Expectations into a classic plot analysis is difficult. Because it was a serialized novel, Dickens had to keep his readership coming back for more. There are so many exciting, cliff-hanger moments throughout the novel.
Pip and 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 Pip meets a convict. In a graveyard. Pip helps the convict by stealing food from his sister. When Pip finally tells Joe about this, Joe is shocked at Pip’s behavior. If Pip can steal, what else will he do? Oh, just you wait and see. Pip rides the guilt train, and is spooked by the memory of the escaped convict.
Pip is invited to go "play" at the house of a wealthy lady and her niece. He is scorned, mocked, and treated like a dog, what fun! Despite her supreme snobbishness, six year-old Pip falls head over heels for the little girl (whose name is Estella). She makes fun of his "thick boots" and "coarse hands," and Pip is suddenly angry at Joe for not having raised him to be a more genteel young man.
Just when Pip begins to get comfortable in his blacksmith gig, and just when he realizes he can envision a life on the marshes after all (even without Estella), a fortune falls into to his lap one random Saturday night. The fortune is money and land, and the benefactor is anonymous. Pip must move to London at once to learn how to be a gentleman. Sweet! There’s just one problem: Pip has to leave Joe and Biddy behind. He cries a little but is totally excited to be on his way to becoming an Estella-wooer. But, after a while, London kind of sucks, Pip loses money, and he loses touch with Joe and Biddy.
On his 23rd birthday, Pip’s benefactor arrives in the midst of a storm late one night. His benefactor is none other than the convict himself. This means that Pip has not been financed and supported by Miss Havisham, and that he is not destined and designed for Estella after all. His fortune is born out of money earned by an exiled convict. All this time Pip thought he was finally being welcomed into society’s arms when, in reality, his fate was being sewn tighter and tighter to that of a law-breaking criminal. What’s worse is that Pip’s benefactor is here to stay.
The night before the boys make their great escape, Pip decides to heed a mysterious letter beckoning him back to the marshes in order that he might learn some valuable tidbits about his benefactor. It’s a trap, however, and Pip is nearly hammered to death and thrown in the limekiln by Orlick. The next day, Pip, Startop, Herbert, and Magwitch 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, Compeyson brings the police around and the escape is thwarted.
After Magwitch dies in jail, Pip in turn becomes very sick, almost to the point of no return. Joe nurses him back to health, but leaves when Pip has gained his strength once more. 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 for eleven years.
When Pip returns home after eleven years, he finds a mini Pip sitting by the fire with Joe. Mini-Pip really looks like big Pip did when he was a munchkin. Pip becomes enamored with the idea of being Uncle Pip. Pip also sees Estella, but there are two different stories about that. The main thing is that there is resolution with Estella, and Pip’s self-destructive, family-ignoring ways are far behind him.