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Great Expectations - summary

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Introduction

Great Expectations. 'Great Expectations' was written by Charles Dickens in 1861. 'Great Expectations' is a coming of age story that revolves around the life of one man Pip. From the time he was seven years old until he was in the mid thirties, Pip shows us the important events in his life that shaped who he became. Along the way, he enquires many different acquaintances and friends that influence him in his decisions and goals in his life. 'Great Expectations' is a story that the public can relate to because at some point, everyone goes through the struggles that Pip must battle. It shows that possessions and wealth do not change who people are inside, and that finding one's self can be a long process until finally everything becomes clear. 'Great Expectations' discusses various themes on crime, law and the criminal justice system. Through the novel Dickens displays his point of view of criminality and punishment. This is shown in his portraits of all pieces of system: the lawyer, the clerk, the judge, the prison authorities and the convicts. He uses characters such as Mrs Joe Gargery and Magwitch to define people's common views about crime and punishment and how it is explored through the character Magwitch. The prison system in England may have had a significant effect on the life and writing of Charles Dickens due to his father's imprisonment John Dickens worked as a clerk at the Navy Pay Office. Having seven children, John Dickens found it difficult to provide for his growing family on his meagre income. In 1822 the family moved to Camden Town in London. John Dickens debts had become so severe that all the household goods were sold. Still unable to satisfy his creditors, he was arrested and sent to Marshalsea Prison. These kind of prisons came to be workhouses for people who had lost all their belongings. ...read more.

Middle

'I wish to say something respecting this escape. It may prevent some persons laying under suspicion a longer me.' Magwitch knew Pip was there and knew he may get in trouble so here Magwitch is showing his gratitude towards Pip and his thanks by making sure Pip doesn't get into any trouble for helping him. This shows Magwitch is thoughtful and grateful to Pip. When Magwitch tells Joe he has eaten his pie, Joe responds saying 'God knows you're welcome to it- so far as it was ever mine.' Joe is showing compassion to Magwitch, showing his gentle, caring side. He says to him 'we don't know what you have done, but we wouldn't have you starved to death for it, poor miserable creature.' He sees him in a different light, calling him a 'poor miserable fellow creature.' He has great compassion for him; no matter what he's done wrong Joe knows he shouldn't be badly treated he sees good in him. The reader also will see this good and feel quite sorry for the convict. When Magwitch is taken back to the hulks, the audience is made to feel deeply sorry for him, as the hulks were horrible. The convicts were treated like animals 'somebody in the boat growled as if to dogs, Give way you!' Pip describes it as 'like a wicked Noah's Ark.' The horror of the convicts as if they were animals locked up. 'Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty chains.' They were restrained in chains, locked up and overcrowded, a horrible place to be. Hulks were full of diseases and would have been a very frightening and horrific experience. Dickens is trying to show the cruel conditions that convicts had to go through and how they were treated like animals he's trying to put his feelings about the way convicts were treated across. The reader is given a horrible feeling making them feel sympathy for Magwitch and anxious as to what will happen to him. ...read more.

Conclusion

Dickens exemplifies the unfairness of the judicial system and the social prejudice of the courts, through the trial and punishment of Magwitch and Compeyson for the same crime. Compeyson is a gentleman. He has the financial aspects of a gentleman, fine clothes and material possessions, but none of the moral aspects. Magwitch describes him; 'He has a watch and a chain and a breast pin and a handsome suit of clothes.' He looks like a gentleman but has none of the moral aspects that a gentleman must have. He was a businessman; 'Compeyson's business was the swindling, hand - writing forging, stolen banknote passing, and such like.' He was dishonest and a cheat. He got Magwitch involved in his schemes and Magwitch tells Pip; 'That man got me in such nets as made me his black slave." Magwitch and Compeyson were tried for their crimes. At the trial Magwitch says; 'I noticed first of all what a gentleman Compeyson looked . . . and what a common wretch I looked' the jury was more likely to believe a gentleman like Compeyson and he knew this. Magwitch goes on to tell Pip; 'When the evidence was put short, a forehand, I noticed how heavy it all bore on me, and how light on him.' Compeyson made Magwitch look like the one who had arranged it all and hence the one who was most guilty of the crime. Inevitably, Magwitch received the heavier punishment of fourteen years, whereas Compeyson got off with seven years. Dickens shows, in the character of Magwitch, how many so-called criminals are basically good people, how the crimes of a "gentleman" like Compeyson are far more harmful in their consequences, and how the legal system enables the rich to oppress the poor. In chapter 54, Dickens shows how Pip's attitude towards Magwitch changes. Pip tries to help him escape on board a steamer. At the end of the chapter after Magwitch has been caught, we see how Pip's feelings for Magwitch have changed. Carly Chadwick 11C ...read more.

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