John Irving states, "Great Expectations has the most wonderful and perfectly worked-out plot in the English language."
J. Hillis Miller[?], a professor of English, declares, "Pip might be called the archetypal Dickens hero."
Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers
This chapter introduces a young boy called 'Pip', who is the author of this autobiography. His parents died when he was a child and he has no memory of them. He describes living in the marsh country (the meshes)- twenty miles from the sea.
Pip tells of a chance meeting - during his childhood, while visiting the graves of his parents, at a local churchyard. He describes, "A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mid, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars[?]; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled; and whose teeth chattered as he seized me by the chin."
The stranger orders Pip to return the next morning with a file and some food. The stranger threatens Pip, "You bring 'em to me or I'll have your heart and liver out. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen a person such as me, or any person sumever, and you shall be let to live. You fail and your heart and your liver shall be tore out, roasted and ate."
This chapter also introduces Mrs. Joe Gargery who is Pip's sister and caretaker. It also introduces her husband, Joe Gargery, a blacksmith. Pip says, "She had brought me up by hand and I had a general impression that she must have made Joe Gargery marry her in the same fashion." He also describes his home, a wooden house, adjoined by Joe's forge and describes Joe as his fellow sufferer
These chapters involve Pip obtaining the file and food, and bringing these to the man, on the following morning, it happens to be Christmas. It is revealed that "conwicts" have escaped from the Hulks, which are prison ships along the nearby coast, and these escapes are marked by the firing of cannon. While returning to meet the convict, Pip has a brief encounter with another escapee.
When the first convict is informed, that there is another about, he exclaims, "Where is he? Show me the way he went. I'll pull him down, like a bloodhound. Curse this iron on my sore leg! Give us hold of the file, boy."
This chapter describes the Christmas dinner at Pip's home. Here, we are introduced to, Mister Pumblechook (an uncle), Mr. and Mrs. Hubble, and Mr. Wopsle. At the end of the chapter, the gathering is disrupted by the arrival of a party of soldiers.
The party of soldiers ask Pip's brother-in-law, Joe, to repair a pair of handcuffs, "as they are wanted for immediate use." Mr. Pumblechook and the sergeant get drunk and then Mr. Wopsle, Pip, Joe, and the soldiers head out to the marshes in search of escaped convicts.
They eventually come across the two convicts, fighting in a ditch. The convict which Pip first met exclaims, "Mind! I took him! I give him up to you! Mind that!" whilst the other says, "Take notice, guard-he tried to murder me.". Then the first says, "Try, and not do it? I took him, and giv' him up; that's what I done. I prevented him getting off the marshes-dragged him this far on his way back. Murder him, when I could do him worse and drag him back?"
Chapter 6 is quite brief, and describes the return home.
Chapter 7 describes Pip's schooling. Pip writes, "mI deEr JO i opE U r krWitE wEll i opE i shAl soN B haBelL 4 2 teeDge U JO aN theN wE shOrl b sO glOdd aN wEn i M preNgtD 2 u JO woT larX an blEvE ME inf xn PiP." Exclaims Joe, "I say, Pip, old chap! What a scholar you are! Ain't you?" It is revealed that Joe cannot read and Joe describes his childhood, living with an abusive father which, he explains, "Were an drawback on my learning."
Mr. Pumblechook and Mrs. Gargery arrive and inform Pip that he has been invited to visit Miss Havisham, who lives uptown and is a rich recluse.
Pip spends the evening at Mr. Pumblechook's and notes the next morning, "He must be a very happy man indeed to have so many little drawers in his shop." Pip adds, "He appeared to conduct his business by looking across the street at the saddler, who appeared to transact his business by keeping his eye on the coach-maker, who appeared to get on in lfe by putting his hands in his pockets and contemplating the baker, who in his trn folded his arms and stared at the grocer, who stood at his door and yawned at the chemist."
Pip is taken to Miss Havisham's, a "house of old brick, and dismal, and with a great many iron bars to it." A girl meets them at the gate and when Mr. Pumblechook tries to enter, she says, "Oh! Did you wish to see Miss Havisham?", to which he responds, "If Miss Havisham wished to see me...". The girl responded, "Ah! But you see she don't.".
Inside the house it was dark. Pip was taken to a dressing room where an elderly woman sat in a faded and worn wedding dress. She asks, "You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born?" When she orders Pip to play with the girl, whose name is Estella, the girl says, "With this boy! Why, he is a common labouring-boy!"
After playing a game of beggar (cards), Pip is sent home and asked to return in 6 days.
Upon his return home, Pip invites a fantastic story about his time at Miss Havisham's, soas not to tell about how common Estella found him. In Chapter 10, Pip finds Joe at the Jolly Bargemen, a local inn, and there Joe is talking to a stranger who was stirring his rum-and-water with the file Pip had, in Chapter 3, brought to the convict. Upon parting, the man gave Pip a shilling and 2 pound notes.
In Chapter 11, Pip returns to Miss Havisham's, where he helps her walk, in circles around a room, where a quite aged wedding cake sits covered in cobwebs. Some visitors arrive and Miss Havisham becomes quite upset at the absence of one Matthew, exclaiming, "Matthew will come and see me at last when I am laid on that table! That will be his place - there. And yours will be there! And your husband's there! Now you all know where to take your stations when you come to feast upon me. And now go!"
Later, as Pip is wandering around outside, he runs into a pale young gentleman who says, "Come and fight. Stop a minute, though, I ought to give you a reason for fighting, too. There it is!" and butts Pip in the stomach. Pip describes, "I have never been so surprised in my life, as I was when I let out the first blow, and saw him lying on his back, looking up at me with a bloody nose. The second greatest surprise I ever had was seeing him on his back again, looking up at me out of a black eye. He seemed to have no strength, and never once hit me hard, and he was always knocked down; but, he would be up again in a moment. He got heavily bruised, finally he panted out, "That means you have won."
See also: Great Expectations (1947 movie)