Chapters 1-30

1. What is the significance of Philip Pirrip's nickname, “Pip"?

2. What do you make of Dickens' characterization of the convict who accosts Pip on the marshes? Is he a purely sinister character or are we given the sense that he has some redeeming qualities?

3. What do you make of the initial description of Satis House?

4. Is there any connection between Pip's fight with the young man at Miss Havisham's and Joe's fight with Orlick at the forge?

5. Are there any similarities between Pip's relationship with Joe and the one he forms with Miss Havisham?

6. Can we mark the beginnings of a change in Pip by examining his interaction with the handshake-obsessed Pumblechook in Chapter 19?

7. What is the significance of Herbert Pocket giving Pip the nickname "Handel?"

8. What is the effect of our learning the story of Miss Havisham's aborted marriage in retrospect from Herbert Pocket?

9. At the Pocket residence, Pip discovers that “the nurture of the little Pockets consisted of alternately tumbling up and lying down." What is Dickens getting at in his characterization of the relationship between Mrs. Pocket and her children?

10. Do the dining arrangements at the Pockets in any way recall what we see earlier at the Gargery Christmas feast?

11. Pip's encounter with Joe in Chapter 27 is anything but a comfortable one. Is Joe's behaviour here foreshadowed by his earlier encounter with Miss Havisham, and is there anything different about the way Pip reacts to his awkwardness now?

12. As the adage goes, “A man's home is his castle," and in the case of Wemmick, this is literally true. How is the relationship between Wemmick and the Aged different from, or similar to, other relationships between the young and the old in the novel?

13. We learn from Joe that Wopsle has left the Church to become an actor. Is there any symbolic significance attached to this?

14. One of the central preoccupations of the novel is the whole question of what it means to be a gentleman. At this point in the story, is this an appropriate term with which to define Pip? Why or why not?

Chapters 31-59

1. What is the significance of Wopsle's performance in Hamlet in Chapter 31? Are there any similarities between Pip's pretensions and Wopsle's?

2. What is the importance of Pip's brief trip to Newgate with Wemmick, and of Pip's use of the garden metaphor to describe the prison?

3. At the beginning of Chapter 33, what do you make of Estella's comment: "We have no choice, you and I, but to obey our instructions. We are not free to follow our own devices, you and I."

4. In Chapter 34, what is the effect of Pip's description of how he and Herbert go about “getting their affairs into order?" Why does Dickens immediately follow this with the letter from Trabb that brings news of Mrs. Gargery's death?

5. There is a curious episode in Chapter 35, with Trabb ordering about the attendees of Mrs. Gargery's funeral as though they were in “preparation for a grim kind of dance," as Joe says. Is this incongruity related to similar incongruities elsewhere in the novel?

6. Compare and contrast Pip's encounter with Magwitch on the marshes to his re-encounter with him in Chapter 39.

7. How does Magwitch's disclosure about his past dealings with Compeyson change your perspective regarding him?

8. What point is Dickens attempting to make through the inclusion of the rum-drinking, gout-afflicted Old Bill Barley?

9. What is the effect of Wopsle spotting Compeyson behind Pip at the theatre?

10. One of Great Expectations' most striking images is that of fire. Discuss its symbolic importance in the novel.

11. Discuss the strengths of Dickens' description of the scene in which Pip, Magwitch, Startop, and Herbert are overtaken by Compeyson and the authorities.

12. What purpose is served by having the episode of Wemmick's marriage to Miss Skiffins come almost directly after the recapture and incarceration of Magwitch?

13. Why does Dickens have Pumblechook and Pip assaulted by the same assailant (Orlick)?

14. What similarities do you see in Pip's last moments with Magwitch in Chapter 56 and Joe's nursing of Pip back to health in Chapter 57?

15. Does the end of the novel provide us with a strong sense of closure? What, if any, are its ambiguities concerning Pip and Estella?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 2000