Pip — the protagonist in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation — waits for the love of his life to arrive by carriage. He’s waiting to meet her for the first time in a long time. While he waits, his friend Wemmick passes by and invites him for a walk. With some time to kill Pip decides to saunter along with Wemmick. Wemmick takes them strolling through a local prison, (this was the 1800s when prisons were more open and public). Inside Pip sees the lowest of the low.

The entire time he’s thinking about how if his expectations were different he could have ended up in there. Pip’s roots are low class, but around the age of 10 he was given an opportunity to become a high-class gentleman, with great expectations. His walk through the prison was a confrontation of the past that he’s been trying to forget about and out grow. After they walk through that environment, Pip returns to the stop to wait for Estella, but now it’s different. Now he’s ultra self-conscious. He wants to put on a perfect image, but his past is too front and center. Here’s how Dickens writes this moment:

Mr. Wemmick and I parted at the office in Little Britain, where suppliants for Mr. Jaggers’s notice were lingering about as usual, and I returned to my watch in the street of the coach-office, with some three hours on hand. I consumed the whole time in thinking how strange it was that I should be encompassed by all this taint of prison and crime; that, in my childhood out on our lonely marshes on a winter evening, I should have first encountered it; that, it should have reappeared on two occasions, starting out like a stain that was faded but not gone; that, it should in this new way pervade my fortune and advancement. While my mind was thus engaged, I thought of the beautiful young Estella, proud and refined, coming towards me, and I thought with absolute abhorrence of the contrast between the jail and her. I wished that Wemmick had not met me, or that I had not yielded to him and gone with him, so that, of all days in the year on this day, I might not have had Newgate in my breath and on my clothes. I beat the prison dust off my feet as I sauntered to and fro, and I shook it out of my dress, and I exhaled its air from my lungs. So contaminated did I feel, remembering who was coming, that the coach came quickly after all, and I was not yet free from the soiling consciousness of Mr. Wemmick’s conservatory, when I saw her face at the coach window and her hand waving to me.

What was the nameless shadow which again in that one instant had passed?

I just love this hell that Pip walked into. Before Wemmick arrived he was confident and felt put together. He thought what the hell, let’s take a quick harmless walk with a friend. Afterwards, after passing through the prison, he’s contaminated and lost all his confidence.

This was pulled from Chapter 32 in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.