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"Is Magwitch a Criminal or a Victim of Society

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"Is Magwitch a Criminal or a Victim of Society?" In the novel of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, one of the pivotal characters is a man named Abel Magwitch. To answer the question of whether this man is a criminal or a victim of society, we must first establish what a criminal is and what a victim of society is. A criminal is someone who knowingly breaks the law for self-gratification. A victim of society is someone who is subjected to outside influences, and is generally mistreated by society. In the context of this novel, a victim of society is also someone who has never been given a chance in life, and has no control over events that occur involving them. Therefore I am going to try and decide which of these two 'categories' the character of Abel Magwitch falls into. When we first meet Magwitch in Chapter one our first impressions of him are not positive. Pip describes him as a 'fearful man' with a 'terrible voice'. Although we learn that he is in a terrible state, 'smothered in mud and lamed by stones', with a 'great iron' on his leg, indicating he has obviously escaped prison and is on the run, we as readers do not feel any sympathy for him. The reason for this is the fact that he is willing to threaten a young boy, seeming to enjoy the power he has over him is almost repulsive to us as readers, making him appear even more harsh. ...read more.


Dickens must have had a reason for this revelation. Perhaps his presentation of Magwitch at the beginning of the novel is the incentive. He obviously wanted to shock the reader with an unexpected twist, and by disclosing the information that Pips benefactor is the one person the reader assumes it could never be, he achieves his purpose sensationally. This shows that Magwitch obviously has a more human side, to show such gratitude for an event that occurred so many years ago. This again demonstrates that Magwitch is not the criminal that we may have first thought he was, and perhaps the pressures of society played a part in his life. Pip, however, is horrified, and his 'blood ran cold within' him. He still has all his old childhood prejudices against Magwitch, and a new kind of revulsion against the man seems to well up inside him. This shows how Pip still thinks of him as a criminal, yet we as readers begin to question his motivation for these feelings. Magwitch then proceeds in telling us his life story. He is presented to us as a victim, but clearly as he is telling the story it is going to be biased towards himself. We learn how he too is an orphan, and that he survived his childhood 'thieving turnips'. He has been in and out of jail, and it seems that people were telling him from a very early age that that was all he was fit for. ...read more.


This provides more evidence that Magwitch is a victim of society. Overall it could be argued that it is the treatment of Magwitch by the justice system that becomes his motive for wanting Pip to become a gentleman. It may have tinted his views so that he thinks that if you are a gentleman, you can escape and so therefore Pip will be in a sense safe from jail, and thus be saved the same suffering as Magwitch. This belief would probably have evolved after his trial with Compeyson, which taught him that the law could be manipulated by class. This shows that Magwitch did not have many criminal intentions, and that he was tricked by Compeyson. In a sense Dickens is trying to show us how real justice can be hard to find. It is because of his low status and poverty that Magwitch never really had a chance. This shows how the justice system has been manipulated by society. Therefore, I think that Magwitch, while having acted like a criminal, is not to blame for his actions and it could be argued that he is even remorseful about them. This shows that he is not a criminal, but a victim of the society he lives in, because he was never given a chance to prove society wrong and make something of his life, he was just labelled and left in jail. ...read more.

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