Great Expectations Chapter 18 Summary

Instructor: Erin Burke

Erin has taught college level english courses and has a master's degree in english.

This lesson will explore Chapter 18 of Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations. It includes a plot summary as well as a deeper analysis of important themes presented in this chapter.

Chapter 18 Overview

Ever wonder where Dickens came up with the title for his novel? Look no further than Chapter 18, when Pip literally becomes aware of the 'Great Expectations' held for him by a mysterious benefactor. Finally, Pip's longing to rise above his lowly origins as an orphaned apprentice to a blacksmith will be satisfied! Pip should be the happiest boy alive! So why can't he shake that pesky gloomy feeling?

Pip Meets a Stranger in the Pub

The action begins on a Saturday night in the pub. At this point in his life, Pip is well-settled into his life as an apprentice to Joe the blacksmith. It's a typical Saturday night, with Pip out in the cozy pub, sitting in a group of friends and family and listening to Mr. Wopsle do a dramatic reading of an article in the newspaper. The article has to do with a well-known murder case, and everyone enjoys Mr. Wopsle's performance as he describes the particulars of the case and even plays different characters from the story.

After Mr. Wopsle finishes reading the story, a stranger speaks up and starts challenging him. He aggressively asks Mr. Wopsle why he believes the alleged murderer from the news story to be guilty. He then attacks Mr. Wopsle for his presumptuousness and reminds him that under English law every person is innocent until proven guilty. As the group, including Pip, watch the cross-examination unfold, they begin to doubt Mr. Wopsle and think badly of him. Such is the skill of the stranger doing the questioning and causing Mr. Wopsle to stammer and have a difficult time defending his position.

After humiliating Mr. Wopsle enough, the strange gentleman asks if there is a Joe and a Pip in the group, and then informs the two that he wants to meet with them in private. Joe and Pip find themselves walking home with the stranger, having no idea what who he is or what he wants. Upon entering their home, the man finally introduces himself, and his cross-examination of Mr. Wopsle suddenly makes sense - he is a lawyer. His name is Jaggers, and he has come to speak with Joe and Pip on business.

The Benefactor's Terms

As the two listen in wonderment, Mr. Jaggers informs them that he is there on behalf of a client who would like to be Pip's benefactor. This mysterious client has asked not to be named, and he or she will be the one to reveal his or her identity if and when he or she chooses - in person. Because of this benefactor, Pip is to receive property and education and will begin living his life as a gentleman. Pip immediately suspects Miss Havisham and cannot believe that what is actually happening is better than his wildest dreams.

Mr. Jaggers continues to explain the particulars. Pip will need a tutor, and Jaggers mentions Mr. Matthew Pocket, who is an estranged relative of Miss Havisham's. Mr. Jaggers tells Pip he will leave for London in a week, and he offers money to Joe to compensate for the loss of his apprentice. Joe is offended by this, becoming angry and almost getting physical with Mr. Jaggers. Pip calms Joe down, and Jaggers leaves.

In the aftermath of all that has unfolded, Pip feels rather unsettled and unhappy for someone who has just had all his dreams come true. He can tell that Joe and Biddy are sad that he will be leaving them, and he resents them for it. Pip's feelings as the chapter come to a close seem best explained by the expression 'be careful what you wish for.' As he looks at his modest little room, and then looks out to see Joe and Biddy talking quietly outside, Pip has an overwhelming feeling of sorrow and loneliness.

Analysis

Chapter 18 touches on several important themes from the novel. An obvious one is that of social class. All through the novel, class distinctions are prevalent, and always on Pip's mind. They come to a head in this chapter, as he is presented with a chance to escape his lowly common life and live as a gentleman. At this moment, Pip is hovering between two social classes, about to leave one and join the other.

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