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Free Study Guide-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens-Free BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 54

Summary

They now prepare for the ordeal of Magwitch's escape. The plan is to row all day till they reach between Kent and Essex. They plan to halt ashore at night and take a morning steamer for either Hamburg or Rotterdam. At their night stop, they are informed that there are officers on the prowl. The next morning, just as Magwitch is about to board the steamer, the officers accompanied by Compeyson confront Magwitch. The two convicts fall into the water and fight. Compeyson disappears and Magwitch is seriously injured. The police recover him and take him into custody.

Notes

Magwitch's capture is a tragic but revealing incident. He is content to be arrested now that he has met Pip and has seen that he is a gentleman. His speech is quite eloquent: "I've seen my boy and he can be a gentleman without me." And Pip, in his wisdom, realizes Magwitch need not know that Pip will not inherit his ill-gained wealth. It will be seized by the state, as Pip had well known. And Pip sees in Magwitch something he had not counted on: honor and respectability. He watches Magwitch in prison and remarks "...my repugnance to him had all melted away and in the hunted, wounded, shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affection, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe." Pip has learned a great but painful lesson. Further, he has acted out of no "great expectations;" Magwitch has nothing to give that Pip will take. Pip makes sure the money is not his, and then his actions stand solely in light of his character, not greed or ambition.


CHAPTER 55

Summary

Magwitch is sentenced to death, but it seems clear he will die from the injuries Compeyson dealt him in the water.

Wemmick and Pip go for a walk at the end of which Wemmick leads Pip into a church where he is all set to marry Miss Skiffins. The wedding proceeds excellently.

Notes

With the depressing incident of Magwitch's death sentence being passed, Dickens has added one of hope and happiness each in this chapter to balance his narrative. The offer by Herbert to fill the post of a clerk in his office brings renewed hope to Pip's heart. And the delightful surprise of Wemmick's wedding balances out the tragedy that has led up to it. The superb craftsmanship of Dickens is evident with the way he introduces some comic relief when the pace and tone of the novel seems inevitably tragic.

CHAPTER 56

Summary

Pip visits Magwitch on his deathbed and tells him about Estella. Magwitch had always thought Molly killed their daughter. Pip tells him how beautiful she is and how much he has loved her. Magwitch dies happy.

Notes

As the days pass by, Pip begins to care more and more for Magwitch. Pip is a changed man now. He has learned his lessons in life. He realizes that his snobbery has caused deep pain to real people and that a man's worth has nothing to do with his place in society; instead, it is his actions that define him. He tries to redeem all his misdeeds by serving Magwitch with love and care.

CHAPTER 57

Summary

Magwitch's death depresses Pip. As well, he is heavily indebted and without money. Poor health overcomes him and he is too ill to even move. Joe arrives to help, nursing him back to health and paying his debts so Pip will not go to jail. Joe tells Pip about Miss Havisham's death and her wealth, which she left to Estella and to Matthew Pocket. He also tells Pip it is not important to talk about the past. They are friends and friends understand everything. One morning Pip awakens to find Joe has gone. A note left behind tells Pip that Joe thinks he is not good enough for Pip, who will be able to start his life afresh.

Pip determines to sell his belongings and make things right with Joe. He plans to return to his childhood home and has dreams of marrying Biddy.

Notes

The character of Joe once again touches the heart of the reader. Joe is like Pip's guardian angel that arrives just in time to help him. Pip is extremely ashamed of the way he had treated Joe when he had met him last. But Joe has forgiven and forgotten all of it. They share old memories and go for long drives and Pip relives the world of childhood with his best friend Joe. By nursing Pip, Joe rekindles simple innocence in the boy. Then quietly and humbly, he slips back to his own life, hoping Pip can start his life afresh, without Joe or anyone else to hold him back.

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