When we first meet Pip, he has arrived in England from Cairo, where he has lived and worked for eleven long years. With his return home, memories flood over him in the form of voices and scenes from his past.
The first scene he remembers occurs in the graveyard where his parents are buried. He stumbles into an escaped convict, Magwitch, who threatens Pip, demanding that he get food and a file to remove his leg-irons. Pip returns to his home to steal the items. There, he runs into his abusive older sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery, who has been raising him since their parents died. Mrs. Joe is married to the local blacksmith, Mr. Joe Gargery, who has become a kindly surrogate father to Pip. Chancing the beating he will receive from Mrs. Joe, Pip gathers the food and file and takes them to the menacing Magwitch.
Next, Pip’s opportunistic Uncle Pumblechook arranges for Pip to become a companion to the wealthy Miss Havisham. Pip is cleaned up and sent to spend the day at Satis House, where he meets the beautiful young Estella, Miss Havisham’s adopted child. The mansion is dark and eerie, and Miss Havisham is dressed in an ancient yellowed wedding gown, which she has worn since being left at the altar as a young girl. Jilted by her fiancé, she has stopped all clocks at 8:40, the moment of the rejection; and she has raised Estella to wreak revenge on the male sex. Estella has learned her lessons well and teases Pip piteously.
The next years are miserable for Pip. He has dreams of becoming a gentleman and winning the affections of Estella and is unhappy with his destiny to become a blacksmith. Then his life suddenly changes. He learns from Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer from London, that he has a secret benefactor and that he is to be educated as a gentleman with “great expectations.” Pip is thrilled, says goodbye to his friends, and travels to London.
But, when Pip arrives in the city, he is overcome by the gentleman’s life; and he grows embarrassed of Joe and his past, overspends his allowance, and participates in the frivolous social circles of the upper class.
Then, with the news that Mrs. Joe has died, Pip must travel to his former home. While he is there, he returns to Satis House where Pip sees the beautiful and haughty Estella and falls hopelessly in love with her. But Estella crushes his heart and his hopes again.
After the funeral, Pip returns to London full of confusion and questions: Who is his benefactor? What is the connection between Jaggers, Miss Havisham, Estella, and others. And, most importantly, what is to become of him as he tries to make his way in a very bewildering world?