Great Expectations

Great Expectations

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Great Expectations Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pip returns home from the marshes and lies about where he's been, telling Mrs. Joe that he's been out listening to the Christmas morning carols. Mrs. Joe is grumpily preparing the house for a Christmas dinner party and refuses to make Joe and Pip a hot breakfast, complaining that she is too busy cleaning the house's state parlor for the party. This room is only used once a year and is normally covered with silver paper. The front door—which is also never ordinarily used—will be unlocked for the guests and Pip will welcome the guests entering through it as if it is the family's customary entrance. While Mrs. Joe continues her preparations, Joe and Pip walk awkwardly to church in their punishingly stiff Sunday clothes.
Mrs. Joe aspires to impress her guests by showing off the grandest part of the house, presenting the family's lifestyle as more luxurious than it actually is. Though it's important to Mrs. Joe to project her own gentility, Joe and Pip are not interested in appearing more refined than they are and are uncomfortable in their fancier clothes.
Themes
Social Class Theme Icon
Ambition and Self-Improvement Theme Icon
Integrity and Reputation Theme Icon
Pip is tormented throughout the church service by remorse at having stolen from the pantry and contemplates confessing to the clergyman during mass, although the fact that it is a special Christmas Day service keeps him from doing so. Pip and Joe return home to a house primped for the party and receive the guests: the haughty church clerk, Mr. Wopsle, Mr. Hubble the wheelwright, Mrs. Hubble, and Joe's self-important well-to-do Uncle Pumblechook. At the dinner table, the adults frequently accuse Pip of ingratitude and other moral shortcomings. Inspired by the pork they are eating, Mr. Wopsle delivers an absurd lecture on pigs, warning Pip to be grateful that he isn't one.
Pip continues to struggle with his conscience as he feels guilty about his theft, which he calls his "wicked secret." Yet, though Pip's internal guilt is exacerbated by the adults' criticism, the reader can see that in fact the adults themselves are hypocrites: gluttonous, petty, and selfishly picking on Pip for their own amusement. Throughout dinner, they ironically only accuse Pip of sins (ungratefulness, viciousness) that he is innocent of.
Themes
Integrity and Reputation Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Generosity Theme Icon
Throughout the meal, Pip is terrified that his pantry theft will be discovered. When Mrs. Joe offers Uncle Pumblechook brandy (from the bottle Pip diluted with water after taking some for the convict), Pip is sure he's doomed. Uncle Pumblechook spits out the brandy in disgust—Pip accidentally diluted the brandy with tar water rather than regular water. No one suspects that Pip is responsible. Still, when Mrs. Joe announces she is going to serve a pork pie from the pantry (the very pie Pip has stolen to feed the convict), Pip can stand his guilt no longer and leaps up with a yelp from his chair, running towards the door to escape. There he bumps right into a party of soldiers in the doorway, who hold out a pair of handcuffs to Pip.
Pip feels guilty despite the fact that none of the adults are suspicious, illustrating the strength of his conscience. Dickens conveys Pip's childhood perspective but also allows the reader to see that Pip's fears are out of proportion—for Pip, the soldier seems to be extending the cuffs to arrest Pip for his theft. The reader knows the soldier is only fooling around and, even did he know Pip had robbed the pantry, would certainly not arrest him.
Themes
Integrity and Reputation Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Generosity Theme Icon