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How does Dickens create sympathy for the character of Magwitch in the novel 'Great Expectations'?

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9th April 2003 Helen Bewick 10C How does Dickens create sympathy for the character of Magwitch in the novel 'Great Expectations'? Dickens first portrays Abel Magwitch on the marshes as a violent, terrifying escaped convict threatening 'I'll cut your throat'. He forces a young boy, Philip Pirrip to help him survive by stealing a file and food for him. At the start of the novel Pip is terrified of Magwitch but gradually as the story unfolds Pip's attitude towards Magwitch changes. Pip begins to accept him and they become companions. Dickens often uses the characters in his novels to express his own opinions. He portrays the Victorian judiciary system as unfair and unjust and uses the character of Magwitch to this end in 'Great Expectations.' The reader discovers Magwitch has suffered unjust treatment and atrocious conditions as a result of his awful childhood. Magwitch has raised himself ' thieving turnips for my living' and has had neither an education nor a proper upbringing. By revealing to the reader the sad details of the young Magwitch's childhood, the reader is persuaded to feel sympathy for the character and also dismay at the unjust treatment he has suffered at the hands of the Victorian legal system. ...read more.


He knows that Magwitch will soon die from his injuries and he begs that Magwitch be allowed to die naturally and with some dignity. As already mentioned at the beginning of the novel there is an initial description as seen through the eyes of the young Pip, of Magwitch as 'a fearful man, who glared and growled.' This description implies to the reader that Magwitch is a frightening and intimidating man but Magwitch is freezing, has no shelter and is very poor. Magwitch has no possessions except the clothes on his back. Dickens wants the reader to pity Magwitch, he is a convict but does he really deserve this kind of treatment? In the first section of the novel Dickens uses the word 'and' repeatedly, this shows us there is no end to Magwitchs suffering 'soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars.' Pip's description of Magwitch when he eats on the marshes and his revulsion at Magwitch's poor table manners, make no allowances for Magwitch's background even though Pip's own table manners had been no better before he came to London. ...read more.


When Magwitch comes to London the image the reader has of him is changed slightly when Magwitch reveals himself to be Pip's benefactor. Magwitch then tells Pip and Herbert Pocket the story of why he was convicted and imprisoned on the hulks. The reader discovers the only reason Magwitch committed crimes was because he was starving. This evokes sympathy for Magwitch and causes the reader to feel guilty for judging Magwitch and being prejudice. During the novel 'Great Expectations' Dickens changes the reader's view of the stereotypical violent convict in Victorian society. Gradually he enables us to get to know the real individual who is Abel Magwitch and not the stereotype. He is actually an honest, considerate person to whom life has never been kind. Dickens uses a variety of techniques to make the reader realise that many convicts in the Victorian age only turned to crime to survive. Magwitch committed crimes because he was forced to fend for himself from a very young age. By depicting Magwitch as a member of that society and a victim, the reader is manoeuvred by Dickens into a situation in which he can feel nothing but disgust for that society and sympathy with Magwitch. ...read more.

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