The narrative jumps ahead in time. Pip is a few years older and has begun attending a low-tuition evening school in the village incompetently run by Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt (who dozes instead of teaching) and ineptly monitored by Mr. Wopsle (who makes the students watch him perform orations rather than testing their progress). Pip struggles to learn and finally starts to read and write with the help of Biddy, an orphan who is the live-in granddaughter of Mr. Wopsle's great-aunt. At home one night, Pip proudly writes a rudimentary letter to Joe on his slate. Joe is in awe, complimenting Pip on his intelligence. When Pip asks Joe to read the letter, he realizes that Joe cannot read, that the only letters he recognizes are J and O. Yet Joe insists that, even though he can't spell his own surname, he can read and enjoys reading recreationally.
Pip attends one of Victorian England's working class schools: cheap, understaffed, and overcrowded. Joe's illiteracy is evidence of his lower class background and consequently limited access to education. Yet Joe's touching insistence that he can read despite all evidence to the contrary shows both how important reading is as a mark of personal worth (Joe does not want to identify himself as illiterate) and how eager Joe is to please Pip (Joe wants to make Pip feel he fully appreciates Pip's new literacy).
Pip asks Joe whether Joe went to school and Joe says he didn't and begins to tell Pip about his own childhood. Joe explains that he was born to an abusive father who drank too much and beat Joe and his mother. Joe went to work as a blacksmith when very young in order to support himself and his parents. Even in recounting his father's violence, Joe still defends his father and claims that the man was good at heart. After his parents died, Joe explains, he lived a lonely life at the forge until he met Mrs. Joe and heard she was raising baby Pip by hand. Joe praises Mrs. Joe in spite of her bossy rampages (Pip silently doubts she deserves Joe's praise) and tells Pip that, after meeting her, he invited Mrs. Joe into his home because she reminded him so much of his own mother and because he wanted to help Pip. He tells Pip he wishes Pip never had to be punished with the Tickler, and Pip is moved to tears, knowing from then on, "I was looking up to Joe in my heart."
Joe's story confirms his lower class background and provides further evidence of Joe's immense kindness, refusing to hate his father even when his father was so obviously cruel and abusive to Joe. Although Joe lacks formal education, Pip can see how tremendously superior Joe is in matters of the heart. He is moved to tears by admiration for Joe's generosity and kindness.
Mrs. Joe and Uncle Pumblechook burst in after a day at the market and excitedly explain that Pip has been asked to play at the house of Miss Havisham, Uncle Pumblechook's rich landlady who lives in seclusion uptown. She has been looking for a little boy to play at her house and Uncle Pumblechook has recommended Pip. Mrs. Joe explains heatedly to a confused Joe and Pip that going to play at Miss Havisham's will make Pip's fortune. She rushes to clean Pip and dress him in his best clothes to spend the night with Uncle Pumblechook in town before going to Miss Havisham's the next morning. Pip leaves Joe and the forge for the first time.
Mrs. Joe and Uncle Pumblechook are excited because Miss Havisham is in the upper class and they, being lower middle class, hope that an association with her through Pip will raise their statuses around town. They also assume that, because Miss Havisham is rich, associating with her will somehow result in financial gain for Pip, and therefore them too.