Great Expectations Book Summary - Great Expectations Book explained in key points
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Great Expectations summary

Charles Dickens

One Boy’s Desire for Reinvention to Climb the Social Ladder

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22 mins
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    Great Expectations
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    A fateful meeting

    It was a cold afternoon on Christmas Eve and seven-year-old Pip found himself in the windswept churchyard of a village about thirty miles east of London. 

    He was contemplating two gravestones upon which were engraved the names of his mother and father. He sobbed and tears ran down his cheeks. 

    “Hold your noise!” commanded a harsh voice suddenly. Pip turned and saw a wild-looking man in sodden gray wool with an iron shackle around his ankle. “Where do you live?” he demanded. Pip told him he lived with his sister, Mrs. Joe, wife of Joe Gargery, the village blacksmith. “Blacksmith, eh?” The man eyed the shackle and hatched a plan.

    Pip, under threat of having his heart and liver removed, roasted, and eaten if he breathed a word of this, was to steal a file and food and bring them to the man the next morning. 

    Back at the forge, Joe was in the kitchen poking the coals in the fireplace. Joe and Pip were, as the giant blacksmith said, the “best of friends.” Joe was his playmate – and protector. But there was little he could do to save Pip from the wrath of Mrs. Joe that evening.  

    It was bad enough being a blacksmith’s wife, she cried, without having to raise her dead parents’ ungrateful child “by hand.” She presently gave Pip a fresh taste of her hands-on rearing. “In the churchyard, indeed!” she raged, thrashing him with a stick. “If it wasn’t for me, you’d have been to the churchyard a long time ago – and stayed there too!”

    At dawn, Pip crept downstairs. He took a file from the forge and a rind of cheese, some brandy, and a beautiful, round pork pie from the pantry, which he delivered to the man from the churchyard, who was half-dead from cold and hunger. He gulped down the brandy. His mouth full of cheese and pastry, he took the file to his shackle. 

    Christmas preparations were in full swing when Pip got back to the forge and his sister had prepared a superb dinner featuring a leg of pickled pork, vegetables, and roast fowl. Pip suffered through dinner knowing his theft must be discovered. When Mrs. Joe went to fetch what she said was an especially good pork pie, he leapt to his feet and ran. 

    His escape, however, was foiled by a sergeant who was knocking at the door. His men were hunting two convicts who’d escaped from the prison barges moored in the river, he said, but he needed the blacksmith to fix some faulty handcuffs first. 

    After repairing the handcuffs, Joe took Pip and joined the sergeant. The soldiers found their quarry near an abandoned fort in the marshes. There two men dressed in gray were trading ferocious blows in a muddy ditch. Then one man – Pip’s convict – had the other in a headlock. “I took him,” he thundered, “and I give him up to you!” 

    When he’d been handcuffed, the convict looked around. His eyes landed on Pip, who, with a slight shake of his head, communicated that he’d kept his word. The convict turned to the sergeant. There was something he wished to clear up lest innocent persons be suspected: he’d stolen a file and some food and drink from the blacksmith’s the previous night. “I’m sorry to say, blacksmith,” he said, turning to Joe, “that I’ve ate your pie.” 

    “God knows you’re welcome to it,” replied Joe. “We don’t know what you’ve done, but we wouldn’t have you starved for it, poor miserable fellow creature.” 

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    What is Great Expectations about?

    Great Expectations (1860) is Charles Dickens’ classic novel about the social ambitions and failings of Pip, a small-town orphan who suddenly becomes wealthy through a mysterious benefactor. Pip leaves his home town for London, but as his social and material standing develop, he suffers a moral deterioration that leaves him questioning his decisions. 

    Who should read Great Expectations?

    • Fans of classic literature
    • Anyone who loves a good tale of rags to riches
    • People who want to find out what Dickens was all about

    About the Author

    Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was an English author and social critic who is widely regarded as the most important novelist of the Victorian era. His novels, which include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist as well as Great Expectations, enjoy lasting popularity to this day and are still frequently adapted across all artistic genres. He died in 1870, and was buried in the ​​Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, London. 

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