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Great Expectations; Is Magwitch a criminal or a victim of society?

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Introduction

Great Expectations; Is Magwitch a criminal or a victim of society? Great Expectations was written in the era of Queen Victoria; ironically a time of great progress and prosperity. Sadly, this was not the case for all. Education benefited the rich. As a result, there was a huge gap between the rich and the poor. The justice system was harsh, favouring the rich, two hundred men and women were put before the judge to be sentenced to death every week. It is clear that Dickens reflects on the society of the time, and shows the unjust, class divided society Magwitch was a part of and the need to reform a legal system which treated this man so unjustly. Knowing Magwitch grew up in this brutal society, it isn't surprising that our initial impressions are built around the fact he is a bloodthirsty villain and not very trustworthy. Initially though, he's a coward, threatening Pip "keep still or I'll cut your throat" which gives us the impression that he is an aggressive individual who is willing to pick on a harmless child. His animal characteristics prove that he wasn't brought up very well and that he can't have been treated very well over the years, "he glared and growled" which likens him to a dog. ...read more.

Middle

You can hardly blame him for stealing because if he hadn't stolen, he would be dead and if he had a better upbringing then he probably wouldn't have had to resort to stealing. Society did little for him, classing him as "a terrible hardened one" and giving him items that he was unable to read or lectures that were too complicated to understand. His answer was simple, "I must put something into my stomach" Magwitch has to commit crime to survive. Ironically, it is a deserting soldier who teaches him to read, and a travelling giant who teaches him to write, both outcasts themselves. Soon Magwitch became involved with some rather dodgy characters, and the one that caused him so much trouble was Compeyson. Compeyson caused misery throughout 'Great Expectations'. He destroys Miss Haversham's life by leaving her at the altar, treats his fellow criminals with contempt and manipulated many people, including Magwitch. It is no wonder that he is described as "that evil genius." Compeyson was an educated man with money. He knew he could make Magwitch do whatever he wanted him to do, "make me his black slave." There followed acts of crime, "swindling, handwriting forging" where Compeyson benefited and Magwitch was" a poor tool". When caught they were tried in court together, but because the justice system favoured the rich, Magwitch received fourteen years where as Compeyson only received seven. ...read more.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that Dickens wanted the reader to feel sorry for Magwitch and he certainly succeeds, "O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner!" Magwitch being Pip's benefactor was responsible for most of Pip's success in becoming a gentleman. Pip begins to turn into a snob during his time in London, and develops bad feelings about his past life as a blacksmith. When Magwitch returned to visit him, he helped Pip become much more of a gentleman and he became far more understanding of Joe and his origins. This is hardly the behaviour of a criminal. It is obvious to everyone that Magwitch is in fact a victim of society. Dickens intended us to have pity on Magwitch and to grow to feel sorry for him. If he had had a decent childhood, then he might have had a chance in life. He had a purpose in life, he just didn't fulfil it. He is a criminal because as an orphan he had to steal to survive and with no education jobs were unavailable so a life of crime became a necessity. However, he has a strong sense of loyalty, justice and compassion. If society had cared there is no doubt that he would have succeeded. It is when Magwitch is placed alongside Compeyson that the reality becomes clear. Magwitch is the victim, Compeyson the criminal. ...read more.

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