Summary and Analysis
Chapters 55-57 - (Volume III, Chapters 16-18)
Pip has softened much himself by this point in the novel. He has given up his snobbish attempt to distance himself from the criminal stain and is genuinely caring to Magwitch, whom Pip has come to realize is a better man than he is. He does this from his heart, not for financial gain, and even Magwitch notices that Pip is more comfortable with him now as a condemned man than as a free one. Some literary analysts feel that Pip felt free to love Magwitch only because he knew the man was dying and that if Magwitch lived, Pip would not have been able to sustain that emotion. However, Pip's concern appears genuine and he does offer great comfort to the dying man by staying by his side. Abandoned his whole life, Magwitch treasures Pip's loyalty as he dies.
Pip is overwhelmed with emotion during his own illness. After everything Pip has done to hurt them both, Joe has come to nurse him and Biddy sent him. Joe and Pip are able to talk about some long-standing issues between them, such as Joe's guilt over not protecting Pip more as a child, and Pip's guilt over lying to him about the convict on the marshes. Joe makes it all a non-issue when he points out that if Pip forgives his failure, he sees no failure on Pip's part. Maybe a more full and open discussion would have been a better choice, but Joe waves away people's failures and focuses on the present. Joe also points out that Pip's good word to Miss Havisham got Matthew Pocket a lot of money.
There is also a change in Joe, who has learned to write and takes pride in it. In the past, he avoided learning but has come to accept it as a good idea. Pip was never wrong in wanting Joe to learn — education is not a bad thing — but Pip was wrong in why he wanted Joe to learn. As Pip gets better, Joe assumes that the old snobbish status quo will return, so he leaves. This time, though, things are different. Pip is different. Not only does he have an honorable intention, he follows it with an honorable action and he does it in person, not long distance or through another. He goes home to make amends with Joe and to ask Biddy to marry him.
Dickens infuses some humor as he ties up loose ends. Wemmick's wedding is a classic piece because of Wemmick's acting as if the whole thing is a surprise. Wemmick's compliment for his bride that she is such a manager of fowls is humorously unromantic but full of love and admiration and very characteristic of Wemmick. Miss Havisham's leaving Sarah Pocket enough money for pills for being bilious, and Camilla enough to buy lights for when she sits up at night "worrying" about everyone, humorously answers what happens to the toady relatives. Even Orlick's arrest has its humor when Dickens makes fun of Pumblechook one last time: "they took his till, and they took his cash-box, and they drinked his wine, and they partook of his wittles . . . and they stuffed his mouth full of flowering annuals." This is probably the only time in the whole book that Pumblechook is quiet.
Hymen the Greek god of marriage, the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite.
bagatelle board a slanted oblong table that was raised at one end and used to play a nineteenth century version of pinball with a wooden ball, a wooden cue, and numbered holes.
nosegays small bouquets of flowers, such as for carrying in the hand.
gewgaws things that are showy but useless; trinkets.
two men up into the Temple to pray reference to the biblical parable from Luke 18:10-13, in which a Pharisee and a publican go into the temple to pray. The Pharisee is proud, while the publican is humble and asks God to forgive him because he is a sinner. Pip is thinking of these verses as he stands at Magwitch's deathbed. Magwitch has just died, and Pip concludes that the best prayer he can make is "Oh Lord, be merciful to him, a sinner!"