Summary and Analysis
Chapters 58-59 - (Volume III, Chapters 19-20)
On his return home, Pip meets Pumblechook who magnanimously "forgives" Pip for his ingratitude, and Joe, for his stupidity. Pip acidly tells the man that his benefactor is not in the room. Walking toward the forge, Pip is worried because it is closed. He is then overwhelmed to find out Joe and Biddy have just been married. Pip is relieved he never told Joe that he himself had wanted to propose to Biddy. Joe and Biddy are thrilled to see him. Pip apologizes to them and tells them he is going to join Herbert in Egypt. He promises to repay them and asks that they remember him kindly.
In Egypt, Pip lives with Herbert and Clara, pays off his debts, and leads a frugal life. He honors his promise to pay Joe back and writes frequent letters to Joe and Biddy. Pip eventually becomes a third partner in the firm, at which point Clarriker tells Herbert how Pip secretly got him started in the business. Pip acknowledges to himself that the firm's success is due in large part to Herbert's talents, and he realizes his initial assessment of Herbert as inept was more likely the ineptness in himself. Eleven years later, Pip returns to the forge to visit Joe, Biddy, their daughter, and young son, Pip. He offers to borrow Pip but Biddy gently tells him he must marry. Pip acknowledges that even Herbert and Clara tell him this, but he indicates he is an old bachelor and content in his ways. Biddy asks if he still longs for Estella.
Before nightfall, Pip walks to the site of Satis House, and wandering the grounds, comes across a solitary figure in the shadows — Estella. She has changed, time and trouble softening the proud eyes. Estella tells Pip she has thought of him much lately, though for a long time she could not because it hurt to think of what she threw away. They rise to part and Estella asks if he will think of her as a friend. Pip tells her they are friends and observes to himself that he saw "the shadow of no parting from her."
Pip has finally accepted responsibility for his sins, debts, and life. He is frugal, remembers to write Joe and Biddy, and pays his debts. His maturity is evident when, instead of being upset that Joe beat him to marrying Biddy, he feels relief that he never mentioned his own wish to do the same. He also looks at others in a new light, acknowledging that the firm's success is due to Herbert's talents and that his original opinion of Herbert's ineptness was really his own ineptness showing.
The secret of Pip setting Herbert up in business is revealed, leaving only one secret left at the end of the story that Pip holds in his heart — Estella's parentage. Dickens never does say whether the final secret of Estella's parentage is ever revealed. Most likely, Pip takes it to his grave. Dickens provided two endings to this story. The original ending had Estella remarried to a Shropshire doctor, meeting Pip once in London and exchanging pleasantries, and then each going their separate ways. Dickens' own life had a precedent for this when he met his first love, Maria Beadnell, many years later in his life. By then she was very fat and his image of her was crushed. Certainly here Dickens has Estella losing some of her beauty and wearied a bit by life. But overall he treats Estella kindly. Dickens, instead, took the advice of a novelist friend and changed the ending to give Pip, Estella, and the readers a chance for a happy conclusion. However, the ending is ambiguous and no one is certain if the "shadow of no parting" means they stay together or not.