Pip is a young orphan who lives with his sister (known as Mrs Joe) and her husband, Joe Gargery, the strong but gentle blacksmith. As Pip visits his parents' graves he has a terrifying meeting with Magwitch an escaped convict. Pip helps the convict but he is eventually recaptured and taken back to prison. Pip continues his simple existence as a poor but honest boy but he cannot help feeling unhappy with his place in life.
Pip is taken to meet Miss Havisham, an eccentric lady who has shut herself away ever since her wedding was called off at the last minute. She never leaves her house, still wears her wedding dress and despises all men. Pip also meets Miss Havisham's adopted daughter Estella who is being brought up by Miss Havisham to break men's hearts. Estella therefore treats him cruelly especially when she talks about Pip's background as a common boy. Pip makes many visits to them and gradually falls in love with Estella. He dreams of becoming a gentleman so that he can be worthy of her.
As a reward for his visits Miss Havisham pays the money which allows Pip to become Joe's apprentice; he works in the forge with Joe and Orlick. Though it is not what he really hoped for, Pip becomes a steady worker trying to educate and improve himself with the help of a local girl, Biddy. During this time Mrs Joe is savagely attacked and becomes unable to care for the family anymore. Biddy moves into the family home to help them out.
One day Pip, who is by now a young man, is visited by a London lawyer, Mr Jaggers. Jaggers tells Pip that he has come into a fortune and must go to London to become a gentleman, improve his education and take up a higher class life. Pip convinces himself that the money has come from Miss Havisham and that this means that she plans for him and Estella to be a couple.