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Literature / Great Expectations

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"Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day."

Great Expectations (1861) is a novel by Charles Dickens.

It is one of his most famous works (along with A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities), as the multitude of high school students assigned this 450+ page book will attest. Ironically, it is his most unconventional work; Dickens deconstructed many of his trademark plots and characters in it, including the Mysterious Benefactor and Rags to Riches tale. The main character Pip is also far from the simple minded innocents of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, and arguably has undergone the most Character Development as a result.

Pip starts the book as a guileless orphan who lives under the thumb of his shrewish older sister Mrs. Joe, only marginally mollified by her simple-minded but good-hearted husband Joe. The most eventful incident in his childhood is helping a convict on the marshes escape. But after being invited to play at the home of Miss Havisham, an eccentric spinster who's never recovered from being jilted at the altar long ago, and meeting her beautiful, but haughty ward Estella there, Pip's mindset changes. He begins to resent his simplistic upbringing and the middling blacksmith career and working-class life that seem inevitable for him.

Then, out of nowhere, a lawyer named Mr. Jaggers shows up at Pip's doorstep and tells his stunned family that he has had "great expectations" bestowed upon him by a Mysterious Benefactor. Pip will spend the next couple of years training to become a proper gentleman. His benefactor's identity is a secret, but Pip is convinced that it is Miss Havisham. He meets the upper-class members of London society including friendly Herbert and loathsome Drummle, forgets about his old life, and courts Estella with limited success. But it is not until Pip finally discovers who his benefactor is that the plot really begins to thicken and Pip is forced to confront a variety of surprises, disappointments, and unexpected revelations.

Can be read here.

Screen adaptations:

    Film and TV versions 
Great Expectations has been subject to many screen adaptations through the years. The one most likely to have been viewed in a high school English class is the 1946 film directed by David Lean. There also have been:


  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Pip ignores Biddy's obvious love for him as he fruitlessly pursues Estella. After he realizes the error of his life choices, he returns to claim Biddy as his bride, only to find out she has married Joe instead.
  • Abusive Parents: Joe recalls how his father would "hammer" his mother and him, and when they tried to flee, he united their neighbors to shame them into coming home where he would hammer them again.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: When Pip becomes a gentleman he also becomes a snob and distances himself from Joe; he ignores Joe's letters unless they mention Estella, and he thinks Joe makes an absolute disaster of himself in London. He doesn't reconcile with Joe and Biddy until he loses the money.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Herbert nicknames Pip "Handel," after the composer of the piece "The Harmonious Blacksmith" (reasoning that Pip was originally a blacksmith, and they get along harmoniously). For that matter, "Pip" is already a nickname for Philip.
  • Age-Appropriate Angst: The book comments specifically on this in its opening chapters as Pip deals with the burden of living as a largely ignored and undervalued orphan:
    In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and finely felt as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking horse stands as many hands high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Joe and Biddy marry, long after the death of Mrs. Joe. Biddy is much younger than her husband.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Pip has unrequited feelings for Estella, who was raised by Miss Havisham to be an unfeeling Ice Queen who breaks boys' hearts. When so many men fall in love with her, Estella elects to marry the absolute worst of all her suitors, just to spite and hurt the others (including Pip). She suffers in an abusive marriage for years. Pip, after realizing his feelings for his childhood friend Biddy, tries to start a relationship with her, only to learn that she was already in relationship with Joe.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Magwitch. Pip visits him for a last time to tell him about his daughter, upon which the old man passes on peacefully. In the 1946 adaptation his head nods melodramatically to one side.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Pip is captured and imprisoned by the violently insane Orlick.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Estella, thanks to Miss Havisham's "training" of her.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Pip's infatuation with Estella. Because of her, he wants to be richer and have a better social status, causing him to become ashamed of his perfectly respectable origins, become ungrateful to his hard-working older sister who raised him (even if she was abusive), patronize his childhood friend Biddy and try to "improve" Joe, the nicest character in the book, so that he can meet Estella's standards.
  • Angst: A truckload, mostly by Pip, as a result of Estella's actions.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Pip to Estella. It has no effect on Estella, but does bring on Miss Havisham's one of the most literal and redundant cases ever of What Have I Done ("and again, ten, twenty, fifty times, what had she done?")
    "Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. [...] You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, pad of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm, let me feel now what sharp distress I may. O God bless you, God forgive you!"
  • Anonymous Benefactor: Pip assumes that the wealthy, eccentric Miss Havisham, guardian of Estella, is his benefactor. To his dismay, he learns that it's really Abel Magwitch, the escaped convict who had intimidated him years ago into stealing food for him.
    • He's much nicer now. Raising sheep in Australia will do that apparently.
  • Asshole Victim: Pip's sister.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Biddy spends so much time watching Pip that he pronounces her, "In good a blacksmith as I was."
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Magwitch spends years trying to enrich Pip because Pip delivered food to him when he was on the run and starving. Of course, he didn't give the boy much choice in the matter.
  • Being Personal Isn't Professional: John Wemmick is like this. At the office of Mr. Jaggers, he's a humorless, slightly unpleasant man who is devoted to the acquisition of 'portable property', while at home he is a joyful, caring, and generally amiable fellow who lived with his ancient father in a whimsical house built like a tiny castle. He's very insistent that his personal and professional lives don't cross.
  • Big Bad: The deceptive and equally cruel Compeyson. He ruins Miss Havisham by pretending to love her, inheriting a lot of money from her (which was his goal the entire time) and then abandoning her before their supposed marriage and running away with the money. He is also a dangerous criminal, but meets his ultimate doom when Magwitch (whose life he also ruined by using him as a scapegoat to avoid being convicted of his crimes) drowns him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Herbert, Startop, and even Trabb's boy come to Pip's rescue in the last act.
  • Big Fancy House: Subverted. Satis House used to be one of these.
  • Big Sister Bully: Pip's older sister is his guardian and verbally and physically thrashes him.
  • The Blacksmith: Humble Joe Gargery, working at his forge. Pip often wonders if he'd have been better off if he'd never heard of Estella, which would have left him content to be Joe's apprentice.
  • Book Dumb: Joe Gargery. Illiterate, but generous of spirit.
  • Boomerang Bigot: A young and suggestible Pip turns on everything he considers "common" after Estella disparages him for being common. This comes back to bite him.
  • Break the Cutie: Compeyson did this to Miss Havisham, who does the same with Estella.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: Miss Havisham's fiancé abandoned her at the altar. She never got over it.
  • Break the Haughty: Both Pip and Estella.
  • Broken Aesop: A point of contention against the Revised Ending: a major point of Pip's Character Development is learning he was never meant for Estella and that she is not the person he has idealized her to be. This is undermined by having fate bring her back to him at Satis House, having just conveniently Taken a Level in Kindness and ready to love him.
  • Broken Bird: Estella, either when she lashes out at Miss Havisham or by the ending, when she's had to live with an abusive husband.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Wemmick is the no-nonsense assistant of Jaggers who spends time with his father ("The Aged Parent") at a whimsical, out-of-the-way cottage in his spare time.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Pip is rattled when he reminds Estella of how she made him cry the day they first met, and she replies that she doesn't remember.
    Pip: I verily believe that her not remembering and not minding in the least, made me cry again, inwardly—and that is the sharpest crying of all.
  • Captain Obvious: Estella introducing Pip. "Whom have we here?" "A boy". Knowing her, she does it on purpose.
  • Central Theme: The title's "Expectations" refers to "a legacy to come" and thus immediately announces that money, or more specifically wealth plays an important part in the novel. Some other major themes are crime, social class, including both gentility, and social alienation, imperialism and ambition. The novel is also concerned with questions relating to conscience and moral regeneration, as well as redemption through love.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Subverted — Pip gains a mysterious, wealthy benefactor and believes that it is Miss Havisham's plan to pair him up with Estella, the young woman he loves, but it turns out that his actual benefactor is the escaped convict he helped at the beginning of the story — Miss Havisham had nothing to do with it.
  • Character Development: Pip starts out as a naive boy, turns into a social-climbing snob while he's in London, and finally goes home humbler and wiser.
  • Character Shilling: In-universe, Miss Haversham constantly describes Estella's beauty and allure to Pip.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The escaped convict.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Herbert tells Pip about his fiance's elderly father. When Pip asks, "What does he live on?" Herbert replies, "The first floor." Pip was actually inquiring after the source of his income.
  • Connected All Along: Dickens is famous for having a disproportionate number of characters find out that they're related to each other or met previously, and Great Expectations is no exception: Pip meets the convict more than once, Jaggers serves as the lawyer of at least three key characters, both of the escaped convicts turn out to be entwined in the other characters' stories, and Estella's parents are both sprinkled throughout the cast. In more detail:
    • When we first meet them, Magwitch is an escaped convict who runs into Pip while the latter is visiting his parents' graves, and Compeyson is a fellow escapee. Miss Havisham is landlady to Joe's uncle, Pumblechook, while Estella is her ward and Jaggers is a guest at her birthday party. Molly is a maid in Jaggers' house in London.
    • By the end of the novel, we have learned that Compeyson conspired with Miss Havisham's brother to leave her at the altar and abscond with her dowry. He and Magwitch were later arrested and convicted of circulating stolen money; Jaggers was Magwitch's lawyer in the trial. Magwitch and Molly had a daughter together, though Molly told Magwitch she had destroyed the child. When Jaggers represented Molly in a murder trial and got her acquitted, he resolved to spare her daughter a life of poverty and suffering that he believed would end in her early death, and agreed to the request of another of his clients to adopt her; that client was Miss Havisham, and the girl was Estella.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The ending only comes about because Estella and Pip, neither of whom have been to Satis House in many years, both chance to visit it at the exact same time.
  • Could Say It, But...: Jaggers refuses to confirm or deny his actions involving a certain foundling child, but he puts it to Pip as a purely hypothetical case, which allows him to go into detail without technically admitting anything.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Estella.
    Pip: Enough House. That's a curious name, miss.
    Estella: It meant, when it was given, that whoever had this house, could want nothing else. They must have been easily satisfied in those days, I should think.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: When Pip and Herbert first met they get into a fistfight from which Pip emerges victorious.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Estella has thawed by the final chapter.
  • Digging to China: "Without remarking that man-traps were not among the amenities of life, I said I supposed he was very skilful? 'Deep,' said Wemmick, 'as Australia.' Pointing with his pen at the office floor, to express that Australia was understood, for the purposes of the figure, to be symmetrically on the opposite spot of the globe."
  • Disney Villain Death: Subverted with Compeyson, who meets his end when he falls into a river and drowns after Magwitch attacks him.
  • Distant Finale: The last chapter is set 11 years after the story has been wrapped up.
  • Diving Save: A variant in the waters where Pip saves the old convict from the wheels of the paddle steamer.
  • Does Not Like Men: An understatement regarding Miss Havisham.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: The Ur-Example with Pip towards Estella. She tells him many times that she can't love anyone, but Pip simply cannot break free.
  • Domestic Abuse:
    • Pip's sister is physically and emotionally abusive toward her husband Joe, and to Pip himself. Ironically, Joe's mother was abused when he was younger and because of that he fears he will put his own wife (Pip's sister) through the same thing. So, he is rather passive towards her, with the irony being that he is now the abused one and puts up with his wife's abuse of himself and Pip. He does his best to protect him in his own way, though.
    • Once she marries Drummle -much to Pip's utter horror, Estella suffers so badly from this that her marriage ends in separation.
  • Door Stopper: Depending on how big the type is, editions can run from at least 400 and at most 600 pages. All things considered, you could probably cut the subplots about Mr. Wemmick's father, Mr. Jaggers' death masks, Mr. Wopsle's acting career, and all visits to Herbert's family and pare down about 150 pages without having much effect on the plot, but you'd be missing out on some extra magic in the world Dickens has painted.
  • Emotionless Girl: Estella states at more than one point that she has no heart and has never been taught how to love.
  • Ethereal White Dress: Miss Havisham is an old woman who always wears her white, tattered wedding dress, and she rarely leaves her room. Her character is utterly defined by her obsession with the man who left her at the altar, and she metaphorically died that day, becoming old, bitter, and refusing to grow.
  • Everybody Knew Already: Pip confides in Herbert about his love for Estella, to which Herbert replies, "Exactly. Well?" When Pip asks him how he knew, Herbert exclaims, "Told me! You have never told me when you have got your hair cut, but I have had senses to perceive it. You have always adored her, ever since I have known you. You brought your adoration and your portmanteau here, together. Told me! Why, you have always told me all day long." Unlike most other examples on this page, Pip feels relieved instead of annoyed that his secret was known all along.
  • Everyone Is Related: Estella turns out to be the child of two characters Pip has had random encounters with: Abel Magwitch and Molly. In addition, the man who left Mrs. Havisham at the altar turns out to be the second escaped criminal that Pip saw when he first met Magwitch.
  • Extremely Dusty Home: Miss Havisham's home has not been cleaned or dusted since her aborted wedding twenty-odd years before. Two decades of cobwebs and dust cover everything.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Magwitch goes peacefully, knowing that he's had revenge on Compeyson and believing (thanks to Pip's judicious lie) that Estella grew up to be happy.
  • Fast-Forward to Reunion: The ending, where Pip and Estella meet again. The circumstances of their reunion depends on which version of the ending you read: there's one where Estella is happily married, and one where she isn't, implying that she and Pip may have a future together.
  • Femme Fatale: Estella was bred to become this by Miss Havisham.
  • Fetishized Abuser: Estella is molded into becoming one by Miss Havisham.
  • Foreshadowing: Pip has brief visions of Miss Havisham's death.
  • Funetik Aksent: A minor Jewish character speaks with a lithp, which was considered a stereotypically Jewish trait at the time.
  • Genre-Busting: Anyone who calls this a romance is greatly oversimplifying matters. It has romance, drama, comedy, suspense, a bit of action, a bit of adventure, it's a rags-to-riches story and a coming-of-age story, a possible satire of this and that or even Self-Parody, and it has strong elements of mystery and horror. Figure that out!
  • Genre Deconstruction: The novel is a rare case of a writer deconstructing all of his previous work. All the normal tropes of Dickens novels (the Changeling Fantasy, saintly dying women, mysterious benefactors, long-lost relatives, etc.) happen like clockwork. Then these tropes are revealed to be a malevolent lie created to manipulate the hero - who has been so morally ruined that he's more like an Anti-Hero.
  • Genre Mashup: The book contains a variety of literary genres, including the bildungsroman, gothic novel, crime novel, as well as comedy, melodrama and satire; and it belongs—like Wuthering Heights and the novels of Walter Scott—to the romance rather than realist tradition of the novel.
  • Gentle Giant: Joe is physically the most powerful man for miles around and is terrified at the idea of losing his temper and becoming like his abusive father.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Dickens famously altered his original draft with its Did Not Get the Girl ending to a Maybe Ever After ending prior to publication. However, he wasn't done tweaking. The original published version ends with the sentence "I could see the shadow of no parting from her." When a new edition was published in 1868, Dickens changed the last sentence to "I could see no shadow of another parting from her." Critics have suggested that the tweak was done to make the Maybe Ever After ending a little more uncertain.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Estella is raised by Miss Havisham to be the perfect seductress from the time she's young as part of a revenge-by-proxy against all men. By the time she's an adult she is indeed the perfect seductress: a beautiful Manipulative Bitch who "has no heart" and can't feel or give love either to good guy Pip or Miss Havisham.
  • Grand Dame: Miss Havisham definitely qualifies; however, she is also completely insane, having deliberately frozen her life around the exact minute and day that her heart was broken. Astonishingly, she still receives the occasional visitor, and her upbringing of Estella certainly qualifies her for this trope.
  • Happily Married: Joe and Biddy find true happiness with each other when Pip turns his back on both of them for different reasons (Joe because he reminds him of the humble origins he wants to rise above, Biddy because she is not Estella), and by the book's final chapter they have two children together (one named for Pip) for whom they are both adoring parents.
  • Hate Sink: From the narration and flashbacks we are given, we learn that Compeyson's an absolutely cruel crook who regularly kicks his wife around, proposed to marry Miss Havisham just to emotionally ruin her and run off with her money, felt relief at his partner-in-crime Arthur dying of shame and over-drinking and pinned it all on poor Magwitch, whom he had forced under his thumb in the first place, condemning him to fourteen years in jail while he got off easy. In the two scenes he appears in, he proves to be nothing but a spineless coward whose ultimate demise is something satisfying indeed.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Pops up a couple of times in conversation.
    Miss Havisham: You'll have a gay time and be admired. You must look forward to that.
  • The Heckler: After Mr. Wopsle moves to London to pursue his dream of professional acting, Pip and Herbert go to see him as the title character in a terrible production of Hamlet. The rest of the audience — particularly "a sulky man" in the front row of the gallery — heckles the players mercilessly, to Pip's embarrassment.
    On his taking the recorders, — very like a little black flute that had just been played in the orchestra and handed out at the door, — he was called upon unanimously for Rule Britannia. When he recommended the player not to saw the air thus, the sulky man said, "And don't you do it, neither; you're a deal worse than him!"
  • Heel Realization: When Miss Havisham finally tells Pip that he will not be allowed to marry Estella, and sees the pain in him that she had been waiting for, she is ultimately not satisfied at all and is only left feeling that she did the exact same thing to him that her fiancé did to her (as well as ruining Estella's chances at a normal life in the name of petty Revenge by Proxy). By the time Pip next meets her, she's gone from sadistic old woman to a suicidal wreck willing to part with vast amounts of her fortune to try to make it up to him.
  • Henpecked Husband: Joe. He's quite content with life, though, and never lets his wife's temper get to him. Joe's traumatic childhood meant he and his mother were frequently abused and when he grew up, because of that, he would never raise his hand to a woman.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: The scenes detailing Pip's childhood (being "brought up by hand" by his volatile sister) are treated comically in his narration, probably because he's laughing at it all in retrospect.
  • Human Head on the Wall: A variation: Jaggers has masks of the petrified faces of criminals that he represented but who were hanged decorating his office.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Pip attends a very bad amateur production of Hamlet. At the point where the actor playing Hamlet speaks the line "Don't saw the air thus", a heckler points out that the actor is doing exactly the same thing.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Subverted—Pip learns to resign himself to being, at best, a mildly successful businessman.
  • I Just Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Even after he learns he was never meant for Estella, Pip still begs her to reject the abusive Drummle and marry someone who actually loves her.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Pip does this to Miss Havisham twice, before going to London and after returning.
  • I Would Say If I Could Say: Jaggers is fond of this. Wemmick at one point too.
  • Intentional Heartbreaker: Estella Havisham is Pip's love interest, whom he thinks he's being groomed to wed because he's under the mistaken belief that her adopted mother, Miss Havisham, is his secret benefactor helping to advance him in society. In reality, Miss Havisham has been grooming Estella to be her weapon to take revenge on men in general by making them fall in love with her then breaking their hearts. Estella herself claims she has no real affections for anyone due to her training.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Pip and Joe, his older sister's husband.
  • Jacob Marley Warning: Pip can become either Jaggers (the bad choice) or Herbert (the good choice).
  • Jerkass: Estella, Drummle, Miss Havisham, Pip's sister, Pumblechook, sometimes Jaggers, and, once he becomes a gentleman, Pip himself.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Jaggers is unpleasant to be around and is certainly a grey-morality type of guy, but reveals Hidden Depths by the end.
    • Wemmick, who is a hard-edged clerk at the office and dotes on his Aged Parent at home.
  • Just Between You and Me: Orlick confesses to attacking Mrs. Joe and spying on Pip.
  • Karmic Death: Drummle, after abusing Estella for their entire marriage, is killed by a horse he'd mistreated.
  • Large Ham: Mr. Wopsle, the clerk at the village church, is described as having "a deep voice which he was uncommonly proud of", and delivers both his contributions to church services and the grace at Christmas dinner as if he were acting in a Shakespeare tragedy. Since he lacks the formal education to join the clergy, he decides to put the oratorical gifts he believes he possesses to better use as a professional actor, with limited success at best.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: The Pockets have been producing children at a rate that far outstrips Mr. Pocket's desire for them (or, for that matter, Mrs. Pocket's interest in them).
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Pip finds himself receiving a large sum of money from a mysterious benefactor so he can become a gentleman in London.
  • Let Them Die Happy: While he knows she's unlikely happy with Drummle, Pip tells Magwitch that his daughter lived and has become a beautiful young lady so the man can die happy.
  • Lonely at the Top: Pip becomes a wealthy gentleman, abandoning his poor but decent friends back home and becoming as shallow as the Rich Bitches he's surrounded with to do so. And he doesn't even get the girl. (He only gets her in the revised ending, depending which one.)
  • Love at First Sight: The moment Pip sees Estalla for the first time, he's essentially dooming himself to years of pain.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Not so with anyone but Miss Havisham, so maybe it's more of a Freudian Excuse for her madness and obsessiveness.
  • Love Martyr: Pip suffers for Estalla, poor chap.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Magwitch, a convict on the run, is revealed to be not just Estella's father, but also Pip's mysterious benefactor.
  • Marriage of Convenience: Miss Havisham raises Estella to be a heartless man-eater who woos men only to completely deny them, and then marries the most boring, rich man she can find so that she can continue doing so but with money. She then grows a heart by being cold when a horse kills her husband and questionably finally gets together with Pip. Miss Havisham trains Estella to want these things because she (Miss H) was left at the altar by the man she wanted to Marry for Love, because he is a criminal.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Pip is asking Herbert about Herbert's prospective father-in-law.
    “What is he now?” said I.
    “He’s an invalid now,” replied Herbert.
    “Living on——?”
    “On the first floor,” said Herbert. Which was not at all what I meant, for I had intended my question to apply to his means.”
  • Maybe Ever After: The (revised) ending suggests that Pip and Estella shall never part.
    "I saw no shadow of another parting from her."
  • Meaningful Appearance: Miss Havisham's backstory and refusal to move on are conveyed through the aged wedding dress she refuses to take off. She wears it in all of her scenes, which motivates Pippin to discover the circumstances behind her abandonment at the altar.
  • Meaningful Name: Satis (Enough) House.
    • Estella is as beautiful, remote and lonely as her name suggests.
    • Miss Havisham's (Have is sham) name foreshadows the deceptive nature of material wealth.
    • "Pip" has several meanings. One is a seed, and given that the book is all about his Character Development, growing from a child into a mature adult, this meaning is very appropriate. The word can also refer to the symbols on playing cards (hearts and spades and so on), signifying how Pip is used as a pawn or a symbol, with little agency of his own.
  • Misery Builds Character:
    • The suffering and pain Pip goes through in the third act of the novel leaves him sadder but wiser, accounting for the mournful tone of his narration as he remembers what a jerkass he was.
    • Estella's suffering in her miserable, abusive marriage to the awful Drummle causes the former Emotionless Girl to develop a new ability for empathy. She says "I have been bent and broken, but—I hope—into a better shape."
  • Missing Mom: Pip lost his mother and was left to be raised by his older sister and her husband.
  • The Mourning After: Miss Havisham became a hermit in her own home after being betrayed and jilted by Compeyson, remaining dressed in her wedding dress with the clocks stopped at the time she was betrayed, and the rotten wedding feast in place.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Miss Havisham's lament when she realizes how she's warped Estella's ability to feel.
    • Averted in another instance; upon discovering how warped Estella has become, Mr. Jaggers acknowledges that it is very unfortunate that she ended up that way, but (quite rightly) doesn't feel responsible for it, since he deliberately went out of his way to do the right thing based on the information he had at the time and had no way of knowing how it would turn out.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: An unknown person for unknown reasons suddenly bestows on Pip a large sum of money, and a place in London where he can learn to be a gentleman.
  • Narrative Filigree: Dickens did this throughout his career, filling his story with asides and meanderings. One entire chapter stops the plot dead, as Pip and Herbert go to see Mr. Wopsle's disastrous production of Hamlet.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: A character's repeated uses of the word "damn" are printed as "bless". It's unclear whether this is censored or whether it's what he's actually saying.
  • Never My Fault: Orlick, who, as Pip points out, is responsible for his own misfortune and reputation due to his bad attitude, but still blames Pip for all of it. This leads to him crippling Pip's sister and trying to kill Pip himself later on.
  • Nice Girl: Biddy is a very sweet, gentle girl, basically the foil to Estella.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Joe Gargery is a Gentle Giant, respected by everyone, and the only person (along with Biddy) to be genuinely kind to Pip during his childhood.
    • Herbert Pocket, Pip's roommate, is a pleasant and happy fellow who strikes up a friendship with Pip immediately and provides a nice foil to Pip's melancholic temperament.
    • Although he's less developed than the other two, Startop is a nice guy, who helps Pip in many ways.
  • Never Say "Die": Joe is reluctant to tell Pip that Miss Havisham has died as such, but his attempt at being delicate about it comes out to, "She ain't living."
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: When Estella and Pip meet at the ending after many years apart (Pip has been living abroad for 11 years), she says "I am greatly changed. I wonder you know me."
  • No Full Name Given: Pip is raised by his sister and her husband Joe, but the sister's given name is never mentioned. She is only referred to as "Mrs. Joe" (even by her brother and husband) or "my sister" till near the end of the book, when Pumblechook states she “was Georgiana M'ria from her own mother."
  • No Name Given: Wemmick's father, who is referred to as "the Aged" by everyone, even his own son.
  • Nouveau Riche: Though Pip was discontent with his lower-class upbringing even before he came into money, his newfound fortune just makes this worse. He has to learn how to navigate wealthy society once he receives his inheritance.
  • Oblivious to Love: Right at the start, though he realizes it later. For goodness' sake, Pip, Biddy is right there!
  • Older Than They Look: Although Miss Havisham has often been portrayed in film versions as very elderly, Dickens's own notes indicate that she is only in her mid-thirties at the start of the novel. However, it is indicated in the novel that her long life away from the sunlight has aged her.
  • One Degree of Separation: Not only is Magwitch Estella's father, but Compeyson, who was on the run with Magwitch, was Miss Havisham's former lover.
  • One-Steve Limit: There is Georgiana, as in Pip's mother who he calls "Also Georgiana" early on, and a different Georgiana in the Pocket family. Of course, neither of them have much of an important role, so it's easily overlooked. Pip's sister is also named Georgiana after her mother, but her full name is only mentioned near the end of the book (most of the time she's just "my sister" or "Mrs. Joe"), so that's easy to overlook as well.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: One scene has Pip's sister say "Lord bless the boy!" in a way that makes it sound quite the opposite.
  • Pet the Dog: Despite cultivating the image of an Amoral Attorney, Jaggers' revelation of how he deliberately prevented the infant Estella from growing up among the "spawn" that he sees go to the gallows on a daily basis shows that he does have a heart.
  • Pick on Someone Your Own Size: Miss Havisham uses Pip as a proxy for the man who left her at the altar. Only at the point of death does she realize just how unfair she has been to both Pip and Estella. Not only age and gender but also social class factor into the power disparity: Havisham is a very wealthy dowager; Pip an orphan apprenticed to a blacksmith.
  • Pre-Insanity Reveal: Miss Havisham used to be sane, but went mad after discovering that her fiancé had swindled her out of her fortune and run off on what was supposed to be their wedding day. She shut herself off from the rest of the world, never leaving her house or even changing out of her wedding dress, and eventually conceived of a plan to adopt a girl so that she could raise her to break men's hearts the way that her fiancé broke hers.
  • The Presents Were Never from Santa: Pip believes his sudden endowment to be from Miss Havisham to groom him into a proper husband for her ward, Estella. He's quite shocked to find otherwise. Played With because he knows for a fact that he does have an anonymous benefactor, it's just his guess is incorrect; it's actually the convict he helped at the beginning of the book.
  • Prison Ship: Magwitch has escaped from a prison ship, and is transported to Australia on one.
  • Promotion to Parent: Pip was brought up by his (much older) sister and her husband after their parents died.
  • Purple Prose: Pip describes how beautiful Estella is pretty much every time she appears, which goes dangerously into Purple Prose territory. Justified in that Pip was a child who had fallen in love, and since the story is told from his perspective it makes sense that he would think like this. It's also quite possible that Dickens intended the descriptions to be somewhat silly, considering how much emphasis the book places on Pip outgrowing his childishness.
  • Put on a Bus: After Pip is apprenticed to Joe, Estella goes off to study abroad.
  • Rags to Riches: A mysterious benefactor provides for Pip to be elevated from a lower-class lifestyle to live in London as a wealthy gentleman. Naturally, this doesn't quite turn out as well for Pip as he had hoped.
  • Red Herring: Miss Havisham is constantly built up as Pip's mysterious benefactor, with large paragraphs devoted entirely to Pip revolving her possible motives and hidden mind games, until the end of the second volume, where it turns out to have been Abel Magwitch.
  • The Reveal: The story is pretty straightforward, up until you get to the end of Part II, in which Pip's benefactor turns out to be none other than Abel Magwitch, the convict he helped early in the first chapter, who just so happens to be a very rich felon. From there, almost every chapter in the book contains its own plot twist (which makes sense, as the book was orignally released as a serial).
  • Revised Ending: The book originally had a Bittersweet / Did Not Get the Girl ending in which Pip meets Estella one last time and finds out she has Happily Remarried, after which they part as friends. Dickens' friend and colleague Edward Bulwer-Lytton—that's right, the It Was a Dark and Stormy Night guy—got a sneak preview of the original ending, and recommended Dickens write a different ending which wasn't so downbeat. Dickens then wrote a more hopeful Maybe Ever After which was published. Dickens himself seemed content with the result. The original draft ending was not published until 1937; modern printings of the novel commonly include the original ending as an appendix (see Deleted Scene in the Trivia section).
  • Remember the New Guy?: It isn't until chapter 15 that we learn that Joe has had another apprentice all along; apparently Pip just never thought to mention Orlick before. (In reality, this was because the novel was originaly published serially, meaning Dickens couldn't go back to add the new character to earlier chapters.)
  • Runaway Groom: Easily the most famous case of this is Miss Havisham's runaway groom Compeyson. He only got close to her to defraud her of her money and once he completed this, he sent her a letter informing her of the truth just short of the wedding and then beat town. Miss Havisham goes crazy and hates men for the rest of her life.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Magwitch's illegal return from Australia, which prompts Pip to have a Screw the Money, I Have Rules! epiphany.
  • Second Love: Subverted. Pip returns to Biddy with the intention of proposing only for her to have already accepted Joe's. Poor kid can't get a break.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Compeyson is terrified that Magwitch will kill him. His very actions to dispose of Magwitch by getting him arrested not only alert Magwitch to his presence (as Magwitch didn't even know he was still alive), but gives him the opening to actually kill Compeyson.
  • Self-Made Man: The benefactor is a ringing example. From escaped convict to Wealthy Australian.
  • Sentenced to Down Under: Happens to Magwitch.
  • She Is All Grown Up: When Pip returns to Miss Havisham's after an absence of many years, he completely fails to recognize the beautiful young woman attending Miss Havisham, until the woman looks directly at him and he recognizes Estella's eyes.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: Mr. Wopsle stars in a production of Hamlet that is a complete disaster, with nonstop heckling from the crowd. Fortunately (?) he’s so Giftedly Bad that he doesn’t care.
  • Shrine to Self: Miss Havisham's decaying mansion. All the clocks are stopped at the moment that her would-be groom betrayed her, she still wears her wedding dress as a grim reminder, and the dining room table remains set with the rotten wedding feast and cake. She proposes to have her body laid out there when she dies.
  • The Shut-In: Miss Havisham was jilted on her wedding day and spent the rest of her life shut up in her mansion, still wearing her wedding dress, as the house decays around her.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: From the time he's a child, Pip has eyes only for Estella.
  • Social Climber: One reason why the book is regarded as highly mature is that Dickens finally critiques his use of the trope in showing the social-climbing hero Pip to be a bit of a snob in his yearning for social respectability, only to discover that the Mysterious Backer of his rise up the social ladder was not the rich Mrs. Haversham as he had assumed but the poor convict Magwitch. This starts his Character Development.
  • Speech Impediment: The little Jewish boy who accosts Jaggers has a prominent lisp, and adds Hs in front of vowels at the beginnings of words. One of the Pockets' children is too young to enunciate properly, despite being mature enough to make sure her idiot mother doesn't negligently let the baby hurt itself, and keep doing so even after she's been rebuked for her impertinence.
  • Spiritual Successor: To David Copperfield. They both trace the psychological and moral development of a young boy to maturity, his transition from a rural environment to the London metropolis, the vicissitudes of his emotional development, and the exhibition of his hopes and youthful dreams and their metamorphosis, through a rich and complex first person narrative. Dickens was conscious of this similarity and, before undertaking his new manuscript, reread David Copperfield to avoid repetition.
  • Stopped Clock: Miss Havisham has all the clocks in her house stopped at twenty minutes to nine — the moment she learned she had been jilted on her wedding day.
  • Taking You with Me: Magwitch is captured, meaning he'll be executed for returning to England, but realizes Compeyson is within arm's reach. Even though he knows it'll ruin any chances of him not getting the death sentence, he grabs Compeyson and pulls him into the water where he drowns him. He also ultimately dies due to the injuries he sustained in the process.
  • Technically a Smile: When Wemmick smiles at Pip, Pip notes it to be a hollow and somewhat unsettling gesture. It's especially odd because otherwise, Wemmick is a pleasant and kind man.
  • Teen Drama: One of the first examples.
  • Title Drop: When Jaggers informs Pip of his Mysterious Benefactor.
    Jaggers: The communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Pip, due to his exposure to Miss Havisham and Estella.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Estella at the ending; her misery in her abusive relationship with Drummle has made her into a person with feelings for the first time.
  • Tyke-Bomb: Miss Havisham was left at the altar and swore revenge against all men, so she adopted a baby girl named Estella and raised her to be a sociopathic heart-breaker.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Pip receives inheritance completely out of left field, becomes rich and arrogant, finds out who his benefactor is, squanders money, gets the girl (it is implied at least), and becomes less arrogant.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Biddy, who can't make any headway with Pip. Subverted when she is lucky enough to find true love with Joe.
  • Unrequited Love: Poor Pip spends most of his life pining for Estella, even though everyone (including Estella herself) tells him he has absolutely no chance.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Tickler" is the nickname of the stick Pip's sister uses to beat him.
  • Unfortunate Names: Orlick claims his first name is Dolge, although Pip says this is "a clear impossibility" since he would never have been christened that in a church.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: After the death of the old convict, Pip runs home and falls into his bed in a fever, only to discover on his waking that he is now at Joe's house.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: The beautiful but icy Estella claims to Pip that she has no heart, implicitly as a result of Miss Havisham's raising of her as a breaker of men's hearts. When Miss Havisham entreats for her love and affection in return for hers, she coolly replies that she cannot give her back what she has never been given. She is later defrosted by Pip, if you follow the revised ending or movie adaptations.
  • Wrong Guy First: Assuming that the Maybe Ever After ending pays off, that is. But Estella is certainly better off with Pip than with the abusive Drummle.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: Joe Gargery grew up in an abusive home where his father hit his mother, and as a result resolved to never hit a woman. Unhappily, this makes him the victim of more physical abuse from his wife.

Tropes found in adaptations:

  • Balcony Wooing Scene: In one of the movies, Ethan Hawke yells "Everything I have ever does has been for you!" from the street-level. The receiving Estella is aloof to his affection.
  • Remake Cameo: Jean Simmons (Young Estella in the 1946 adaptation) would later play Miss Havisham in Great Expectations (1989).
  • Setting Update: The 1998 movie moves the story to the present day.
  • Staggered Zoom: The 1999 miniseries ends with a Staggered Zoom out from Pip and Estella as they play cards in Satis House.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Several adaptations make Pip this, especially the 1999 version. (And in fact the original illustrations of the Dickens novel do suggest this.)
  • Teasing from Behind the Language Barrier: In the 1998 movie, after spending a night with Pip, Estella tells him in French "Je vais aller en France demain" ("I have to go to France tomorrow"), assuming he wouldn't understand. He doesn't, and is really surprised the next day when he finds out that she left him.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Peter Carey's Jack Maggs and Ronald Frame's Havisham (both of which also qualify as a Start of Darkness).