The important plot development in the early chapters of Great Expectations occurs at the beginning of Chapter 8 with the introduction of Miss Havisham and Estella. The themes of social class, ambition, and advancement move to the forefront of the novel as Pip explores his feelings for the "very pretty and very proud" young lady. His want for self-improvement compels him to idealize Estella. Her condescension and disdain spurns Pip's desire for self-improvement as he longs to become a member of her social class and entertains fantasies of becoming a gentleman. The unfolding of this fantasy forms the basic plot of the novel, providing Dickens the opportunity to gently satirize the class system of his era and to make a point about the system's capricious nature. Though the introduction of Satis House and Miss Havisham seems to have little to with the basic plot thus far, this section abounds in mystery and foreshadowing, particularly relating to Miss Havisham's character. At this stage of the novel, Dickens does not answer questions, only raises them.
This section covers several months and details with Pip's general development from an innocent boy into an ambitious, young man. The themes of ambition and social advancement nurture this growth as Pip increasingly utilizes his ambiguous relationship with Miss Havisham as a pretext for believing that the old woman intends him to marry Estella. The consequences of Pip's intensifying social ambition deprive him of his innocence and he becomes detached from his natural, sympathetic kindness. In the early chapters of the novel, Pip sympathizes with the convict, despite the threat the man poses to his safety. Now, Pip cannot even sympathize with Joe, the most caring figure in his life. As a result of his love for Estella, Pip has come to value what Estella appears to value. Rough manners and poor clothes begin to seem out of place to the native country boy; a measure of the extent to which he has adapted to life at Miss Havisham's house during his months of regular visits. Pip's adaptation promulgates his hopes for social advancement and romantic success with Estella. With this line of thinking, the first of Pip's "great expectations" slithers into his life.
As Pip enters adolescence, Dickens gradually changes the presentation of the young man's thoughts and perceptions. As a young child, Pip's descriptions emphasized smallness and confusion. As a young man, they begin to reflect his moral and emotional turmoil. After Pip learns of his sudden fortune, his adolescent self-importance causes him to act snobbishly toward Joe and Biddy, a character flaw that Pip will demonstrate throughout Great Expectations. This poor behavior stems from the same character trait that causes Pip to covet self-advancement. A deep-seated strain of romantic idealism lies within Pip, and as soon as he can imagine something better than his current condition, he immediately desires that ideal. His romantic idealism, although inherently unrealistic, lies at the psychological center of the novel's theme of self-improvement. Pip has not yet learned to value human affection and loyalty above his immature vision of how the world ought to be. Behaving in a snobbish, aristocratic manner helps Pip to simplify the complicated, emotional situations in which he find himself as he attempts to impose his immature picture of the world on the complexities of reality.
The characterization of Jaggers further develops in Chapter Twenty as Pip observes hordes of people waiting outside of his office. Jaggers seems to be an important and powerful man and the theme of crime, guilt, and innocence becomes explored through the criminal lawyer and the characters of the convicts. The imagery of crime and criminal justice permeates the novel, developing into an important symbol of Pip's inner struggle to reconcile his own conscience with the institutional justice system. Just as social class turns out to be a superficial standard of value that Pip must ignore, the external trappings of the criminal justice system become a superficial standard of morality that Pip must look past to trust his conscience. Magwitch's criminality, for instance, frightens Pip at first, but by the end of the book Pip discovers Magwitch's inner nobility and disregards his external status as a criminal. A true understanding of mercy and compassion replaces Pip's rigidity of support for a criminal justice system. While the protagonist of Great Expectations longs to be accepted by society, he ultimately learns that social and educational improvement do not affect one's real worth and that conscience and affection must be valued above erudition and social standing.
An interesting dynamic emerges between Pip the Narrator and the Pip the Character in Chapter Twenty-Nine. Upon his visit to Satis House, Pip the Character feels irritated and unhappy at the thought of visiting Joe, but Pip the Narrator judges himself harshly for having felt that way. As a character, Pip lies victim to his immediate emotions, but as a narrator he has the capacity to look at his life from a broader perspective and to judge himself. Dickens uses that contrast well, giving Pip the wisdom of hindsight without sacrificing the immediacy of his story. In retrospect Pip does not spare himself and this becomes an important element used to retain the reader's sympathy. Due to his ability to see the wrong in his past behavior, Pip the Narrator rises above Pip the Character, blind to everything but his expectations. In a sense, the two Pips lie within two separate beings. The narrator seems to looks at Pip rather than out from him. This implies distinctness between the thoughts and the feelings of the two Pips. Pip the Narrator, in the reader's mind, garners sympathy, while Pip the Character garners scorn.
Although a minor character, Bentley Drummle provides an important contrast to Pip and represents the arbitrary nature of class distinctions. In his mind, Pip connects the ideas of moral, social, and educational advancement so that each depends on the others. The coarse and cruel Drummle, a member of the upper class, provides Pip with proof that social advancement has no inherent connection to intelligence or moral worth. Dickens uses Drummle to relate to the reader how social status and wealth can corrupt a person. As a further challenge to contemporary prejudices, Drummle has no moral compass, yet inherited immense wealth, while Pip's friend and brother-in-law Joe works hard for the little that he earns. In Chapter 38, Pip discovers that Bentley Drummle has begun courting his beloved Estella and he begins to feel immensely less important to her. Alone with this bitter knowledge, Pip uses Drummle's negative example to see the inner worth of characters such as Magwitch and Joe. Eventually, he discards his immature fantasies about wealth and class in favor of a new understanding that emulates compassion and pragmatism.
Many barriers break down in this section as Pip finds himself caught between powerful and conflicting feelings. The rigid lines separating good from evil and innocence from guilt become marred as the two plotlines that have defined Pip's life collapse into one. This means that the world of Pip's secret guilt and the world of his highest aspiration share a common history. When Pip goes to break off his relations with Estella and Miss Havisham, only to find that Estella has abandoned him to marry Drummle, Miss Havisham seems to pity him. Miss Havisham's demeanor toward Pip in this section mirrors Pip's gradual softening toward Magwitch. Though at first he seems fearsome and rough, the convict slowly impresses both Pip and Herbert with the raw sense of honor underneath his powerful personality. Even Wemmick breaks the division between his office self and his Walworth self to give Pip information about Compeyson. Following this section, many of the main mysteries of the novel have been solved and Pip has realized that his romantic ideals may be impossible to preserve.
Miss Havisham's full repentance for her behavior toward Pip stands out as the most important plot development in Chapter Forty-Nine. The original dynamic between the two experiences a complete reversal when Miss Havisham drops to her knees before Pip. The dramatic ending to Miss Havisham's story does not assuage her guilt and remorse or end her search for Pip's forgiveness. From her bed, she continually pleads desperately before him. Looking into Pip's eyes, she remembers the feeling of being stood up years ago and realizes her costly mistake. The only way Miss Havisham can make things right between Pip and Estella involves completely removing all of the revenge and hate she has planted in Estella. Tragically, nothing Miss Havisham says now can change Estella's cold heart. Dickens shows through Miss Havisham that nothing can be gained from revenge. Once one travels down the dangerous path, only desperation lies ahead.
Pip's fundamental development by this final section remains clear and the lessons Pip has learned effectively summarize the thematic development of the novel. Pip has learned that social class does not define happiness and that strict delegations of good and evil remain impossible to maintain in a world that constantly changes. Pip also learns that his treatment of his loved ones must be the guiding principle in his life. Although he continues to judge himself harshly, he has forgiven his enemies and has been reconciled with his friends. With the end of Pip's Great Expectations, he finds a satisfying ending for himself. On the other hand, Estella represents the true victim of circumstance and the reader must in the end forgive her for her treatment of Pip. Estella had no choice in her lot in life and endured horrible abuse within her marriage to Drummle. While Pip had good friends in Joe and Herbert and Wemmick, Estella had only jealously bitter relatives. Estella has been trapped, nearly imprisoned throughout her life. Her past, her roots, her beginnings, all lie symbolized in the barren, empty lot where the Satis House once stood. She embodies the true victim of society's values, but in the final scene of the novel she finally becomes her own woman. Estella learns, through experience, to rely on and trust her inner feelings. As she says to Pip, "Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching....I have been bent and broken, but-I hope-into a better shape (Dickens 382)."