Summary and Analysis Chapters 4-6


Tension is evident even in scenes where little action occurs. The scene of Christmas dinner has little action, but the back-and-forth of dialogue about pigs, church, children, and gratitude; Pip's clutching the table leg in terror every time he thinks the missing food will be discovered; Joe's serving him more gravy; and references to fugitives with iron on their legs; all work to create emotional action. It sets up the breaking point of the tension when Pip runs right into the sergeant holding the handcuffs. Similarly, the description of Joe working at the forge is a foreboding metaphor for what is going to happen to the convicts: "the bellows seemed to roar for the fugitives . . . and all the murky shadows on the wall to shake at them in menace."

Joe's decency of character is emphasized in these chapters. He tells Pip he would give a shilling if they "cut and run," and his reaction to hearing that the convict stole his food is simply: "God knows you're welcome to it . . . we wouldn't have you starved . . . poor miserable fellow-creatur." Joe is also aware that his station in his own house does not count for much when he observes of the food: " . . . so far as it was ever mine." It is somewhat of a mystery at this point, why a man as strong as Joe does not stand up to his wife and relatives more.

The themes of need, insecurity, abuse, secrecy, good and bad, cowardice, and guilt show up in Pip's interactions with Joe. Pip loves Joe very much, mostly because Joe lets him love him. Joe is about the only good thing in Pip's life, and at the age of seven, Pip cannot afford to lose the love of the only gentle adult around him. Therefore Pip says nothing about the food and the file he stole. Pip suffers a lot of guilt, but he prefers secrecy, emotional distance, and sacrificing the truth to losing love. Pip, the older narrator, judged himself by admitting he was a coward. These themes recur throughout the book.

There is some additional foreshadowing of the convict's later gratitude to Pip. The convict, noticing Pip's silence in front of the authorities, tells the sergeant that it was he who stole food from Joe's house. This essentially frees Pip from any blame when the missing food is discovered. The convict respects Pip's silence and help and honorably gets Pip off the hook.

Another theme in these chapters is the injustice of social classes. Pip's convict is willing to forfeit his freedom to bring the other one back. There is mention of the second convict getting easier treatment because he is a gentleman. It is obvious there is a history between these two, and their fight foreshadows darker conflicts to come between them.


state parlour a formal parlor that is never open at any time of year except Christmas.

flowered-flounce a flounce is a wide ornamental ruffle, a cloth with pleats in it; here, the cloth has a flowered design.

Accoucheur policeman an Accoucheur was a male midwife or an obstetrical doctor. Because Pip's sister always acts as if Pip had insisted on being born, she treats him like a criminal. Pip concludes that as he were an offender at birth, he was delivered to his sister by an obstetrical policeman.

vestry a room in a church where the clergy put on their vestments and the sacred vessels are kept. Pip is scared and wants to tell someone about the convict on the marshes. One possibility he thinks of is to wait for the minister to announce the banns of marriage—that is when they announce upcoming marriages and ask if anyone has any objections—and at that moment stand up and ask for a private conference in the vestry. However because it is Christmas, no banns are announced and Pip has no opportunity for help from the Church.

corn-chandler a corn merchant.

chaise-cart a lightweight carriage with two to four wheels that is drawn by one or two horses. It sometimes has a collapsible top.

religious cross of the Ghost in Hamlet with Richard the Third Mr. Wopsle, who is a clerk in the church, says grace before they sit down to Christmas dinner. Between his desire to be a minister and thus, preach, and his love to perform in the theater, Mr. Wopsle's grace is like a religious performance of a Shakespearean play. Mr. Wopsle could be the Ghost in Hamlet or Richard III, but with a religious streak.

expectorating coughing up and spitting out.

savoury the British spelling of the word "savory," which means appetizing.

execrating cursing. When the two convicts are captured, they fight and curse each other.

whitewash a mixture of lime, whiting, size, water, and so on for whitening walls. Whiting is a chalk-like material and sizing is similar to glue. It would have been the commonly used material for painting walls in Pip's time.