Great Expectations
  • His eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his‘ is a quotation from Great Expectations (Chapter 1).


Quotation said by the character Pip who is recollecting a story about Abel Magwitch at the beginning of Great Expectations. Pip has stumbled upon the escaped convict Magwitch whilst visiting the graves of his family in the local churchyard. Magwitch startles Pip and, worried that he might call out, threatens to slit his throat to maintain his silence.

Pip’s world is quite literally turned upside down as Magwitch tilts him backward on a tombstone he has been placed on, making menacing demands as he does so. As Magwitch pivots Pip their eyes stare into each other, giving rise to this observation from the frightened young boy.

Despite being scared by him, Pip goes on to help Magwitch, later bringing some food and tools to help his situation. It is a kindness that Magwitch will never forget.

Magwitch suprises Pip in the churchyard.
The escaped convict Abel Magwitch startles a young Pip during a visit to his family grave in a Kent churchyard.

Chapter Summary.

Great Expectations Chapter 1.

Chapter 1 of Great Expectations introduces the protagonist and narrator of the story Philip Pirrip, but unable to pronounce his name I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. Pip is an orphan, who never knew his parents or any of his five brothers who died in infancy. He guesses what his parents might have looked like by the shape of the writing on the gravestones, writing my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their tombstones. He lives with his sister, and her husband, Joe Gargery, a local blacksmith.

Great Expectations is written in the first person by an older Pip looking back on his childhood. Pip goes on to recall my first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things, an incident when he was attacked in a churchyard as a young boy. It is a cold bleak day and Pip has visited an isolated churchyard set in an area of marshes. As he is paying respects at the graves of his parents and siblings late into the afternoon, Pip is suddenly startled by a fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg, who shouts at him to keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat! The man perches Pip on a gravestone and inverts him, disorientating the frightened boy as his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his. Pip is threatened with an unseen accomplice who will be watching him and ordered to return to a battery (fortified position) on the marshes the following morning, bringing with him some wittles (provisions) and a metal file.

  • Later in the story, we learn that Pip was aged I think in my seventh year when the incident in the churchyard occurred, that it happened on a Christmas Eve in the early part of the nineteenth century, and that the man who terrorized him was an escaped convict named Abel Magwitch.


Taken from the following passage in Chapter 1 of Great Expectations:

The man, after looking at me for a moment, turned me upside down, and emptied my pockets. There was nothing in them but a piece of bread. When the church came to itself,—for he was so sudden and strong that he made it go head over heels before me, and I saw the steeple under my feet,—when the church came to itself, I say, I was seated on a high tombstone, trembling while he ate the bread ravenously.

“You young dog,” said the man, licking his lips, “what fat cheeks you ha’ got.”

I believe they were fat, though I was at that time undersized for my years, and not strong.

“Darn me if I couldn’t eat em,” said the man, with a threatening shake of his head, “and if I han’t half a mind to’t!”

I earnestly expressed my hope that he wouldn’t, and held tighter to the tombstone on which he had put me; partly, to keep myself upon it; partly, to keep myself from crying.

“Now lookee here!” said the man. “Where’s your mother?”

“There, sir!” said I.

He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder.

“There, sir!” I timidly explained. “Also Georgiana. That’s my mother.”

“Oh!” said he, coming back. “And is that your father alonger your mother?”

“Yes, sir,” said I; “him too; late of this parish.”

“Ha!” he muttered then, considering. “Who d’ye live with,—supposin’ you’re kindly let to live, which I han’t made up my mind about?”

“My sister, sir,—Mrs. Joe Gargery,—wife of Joe Gargery, the blacksmith, sir.”

“Blacksmith, eh?” said he. And looked down at his leg.

After darkly looking at his leg and me several times, he came closer to my tombstone, took me by both arms, and tilted me back as far as he could hold me; so that his eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.

“Now lookee here,” he said, “the question being whether you’re to be let to live. You know what a file is?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you know what wittles is?”

“Yes, sir.”

After each question he tilted me over a little more, so as to give me a greater sense of helplessness and danger.

“You get me a file.” He tilted me again. “And you get me wittles.” He tilted me again. “You bring ’em both to me.” He tilted me again. “Or I’ll have your heart and liver out.” He tilted me again.

I was dreadfully frightened, and so giddy that I clung to him with both hands, and said, “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn’t be sick, and perhaps I could attend more.”


Philip Pirrip (Pip).

Philip Pirrip, called Pip, is the protagonist and narrator in Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations. He is amongst the most popular characters in English literature. Pip narrates his story many years after the events of the novel take place, starting as a young orphan boy being raised by his sister and brother-in-law in the marshes of north Kent. The novel follows Pip’s progress from childhood innocence to adulthood, where we see a financial and social rise. But these fortunes are offset by an emotional and moral deterioration, which forces Pip to recognise his negative expectations in a new self-awareness.

My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.

Opening lines of Great Expectations.
  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Pip has been played by such actors as Jack Pickford (1917 film), John Mills (1946 film), Michael York (1974 TV movie), Ioan Gruffudd (1999 TV movie), and Jeremy Irvine (2012 film).

Abel Magwitch / Provis.

Like Pip, the convict Abel Magwitch is a character who follows a rags-to-riches story within Great Expectations. Originally incarcerated for his part in a plot to defraud Miss Havisham we first meet Magwitch after he escapes from a prison hulk and terrifies the young Pip whilst visiting the graves of his family in Kent churchyard. Magwitch is pursuing Compeyson, his accomplice in the fraud and who is treated more leniently. Pip aids Magwitch with food and tools, a gesture Magwitch will later handsomely repay. Magwitch is deported to Australia where he makes a fortune as a sheep farmer before returning, secretly, to England under the name Provis. In later life, Magwitch is revealed as a kinder man who has been helping Pip achieve his great expectations.

  • In screen adaptations of Great Expectations, the character of Abel Magwitch has been played by such actors as James Mason (1974 TV movie), Anthony Hopkins (1989 TV mini-series), Bernard Hill (1999 TV movie), Ray Winstone (2011-2012 TV-series) and Ralph Fiennes (2012 film).

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His eyes looked most powerfully down into mine, and mine looked most helplessly up into his.