Great Expectations By Charles Dickens Summary and Analysis Chapters 4-6

Summary

Mrs. Joe is busy preparing Christmas dinner and keeps pushing Pip and Joe out of her way. Pip is very tense, expecting his theft to be discovered any moment, and is relieved to accompany Joe to church. Mrs. Joe acts like a martyr because she must stay behind and prepare things. After church the guests arrive: Mr. Wopsle, the church clerk; Mr. Hubble, the wheelwright, and his wife; and Mr. Pumblechook, who is Joe's pompous, well-to-do uncle and a seed-merchant in a nearby town. Dinner is a nightmare for Pip: The table is in his chest, Pumblechook's elbow is in his eye, and he is served the scraps of food no one wants. The worst part is that all the adults constantly lecture him about being "grateful." Joe offers his meager support by giving Pip more gravy after each verbal attack. The ultimate terror though, is waiting for his sister to discover the missing food. Every time he thinks she will find it Pip clutches the table leg; when the moment passes, he releases it. Tension ebbs and flows several times until finally his sister announces it is time for the savory pie, the pie Pip gave to the convict. Pip lets go of table leg, runs in terror, and plows right into a sergeant standing in their doorway holding handcuffs.

The sergeant and his men are tracking the missing convicts and need the handcuffs repaired immediately. While Joe works on them, the astute sergeant flatters Mrs. Joe and caters to Pumblechook's ego. The pie is temporarily forgotten. Pip gets a further reprieve when Joe, Pip, and Wopsle accompany the soldiers to catch the convicts. The two are found fighting each other in a ditch. Strangely, Pip's convict risks recapture to bring other convict in. Also, noting Pip's silence, Pip's convict tells the guard that he stole some food from Joe's house. This confession saves Pip from any further suspicion about the missing food. It also provides some humorous dialogue when Pumblechook and Mrs. Joe try to figure out how the convict got into the house.

Analysis

Mrs. Joe's abusiveness and lack of warmth are evident with such comments as: "Perhaps if I warn't a blacksmith's wife, and . . . a slave with her apron never off," and her warm Christmas greeting to Pip: "And where the deuce ha' you been?"

Child abuse and religion were often targets of Dickens satire. The adults' attack on Pip about the young never being grateful degenerates into the ridiculous when Mr. Wopsle and Pumblechook turn a conversation about pigs into a Sunday sermon and moral lecture for the young. The satire continues as Pumblechook takes great delight in describing what a butcher would do if Pip were a pig, and then telling Pip how lucky he is to be with them.

Humor and sarcasm show in some of the holiday interactions, as well. Pip relates how Uncle Pumblechook is Joe's uncle, but Mrs. Joe appropriates him, and every Christmas when Pumblechook brings the same two bottles of wine to Mrs. Joe, she responds with the same words: "Oh Un — cle Pum — ble — chook! This IS kind!" Dickens' character descriptions are equally sarcastic: "Uncle Pumblechook: a large hard-breathing middle-aged slow man, with a mouth like a fish, dull staring eyes, and sandy hair standing upright on his head, so that he looked as if he had just been all but choked, and had that moment come to."

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