“Great Expectations” was written by Charles Dickens in 1861. It is about a young boy called Pip showing him from the age of seven through to the age of mid-thirties. Pip shows us the important events in his life and shows many different situations he faces that influence him in his goals in life. It gives the audience something to relate to showing that everyone goes through struggles in life like Pip and shows that wealth doesn’t change people doesn’t matter.
“Great expectations” shows various themes of crime, law and the criminal justice system. Dickens’ views are shown throughout the novel. He uses different characters to define people’s common views about crime and punishment. Dicken’s shows his views through Magwitch.
Charles Dickens experienced the prison system due to his father’s imprisonment. This made an effect on Dicken’s writing by the experience that he faced.
John Dickens, Charles’ father, worked as a clerk at the Navy Pay office and struggled to pay debts. When he couldn’t pay them all he got arrested and sent to Marshalsea Prison- this would have been an awful experience for Charles and that’s why he shows his views in his writing. “Great expectations” is a harsh critism on the British Legal and Penal System.
Magwitch is a character that highlights Dickens’ concerns with the criminal justice system. At first Magwitch frightens Pip in the churchyard but by the end of the novel Pip realises Magwitch’s inner nobility and helps him to evade the law and the police. Dickens was trying to find the good in even the darkest of characters by using Magwitch to show what Dickens thought about crime.
In chapter one Dickens uses a lot of metaphors and similes to describe the setting and atmosphere. Pip describes the day as being “a memorable raw afternoon.” It shows it is harsh and cold. He also says “this bleak place overgrown with nettles was the church yard” this shows it’s very dull and the nettles show sharp and stinging and it doesn’t get looked after much. He describes the marshes as “the dark flat wilderness.” Again showing a dull and harsh atmosphere and a wild effect. He describes the river as “ the low leaden line beyond.” Showing that it’s grey and dull, he describes the sea, as “the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea.” It’s a frightening atmosphere. Dickens creates pathetic fallacy showing emotions. The atmosphere adds more tension by it being dull and dark- it prepares us for Magwitch.
When the audience first meet Magwitch we are met by his loud voice. “Hold your noise.” It’s a loud, aggressive voice and described as a “terrible voice”. The text also says “as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch.” This gives an impression of someone arising from the dead adding to the fact that it’s a dark graveyard making more tension to the novel.
When Magwitch speaks it’s very violent and aggressive. “Keep still, you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat!”
Dickens describes his appearance as being very shabby and shows that he’s not a gentleman. “A man with no hat and with broken shoes and with an old rag tied round his head.” He also says “A fearful man, all in course grey.” He’s dressed in very dark clothes and is very rough looking.
Dickens shows the audience what has happened to Magwitch like he had been “Soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars.” It makes us feel sorry for him even though he is aggressive there’s another side and by the use of the verbs to show what’s happened to him we feel very sorry for him.
Magwitch’s wickedness is emphasised through the presentation of Pip as being very vulnerable and frightened. Pip is very scared of Magwitch and stutters when he talks to him and at one point Pip “held tighter to the tombstone on which he put me on; partly, to keep myself upon it; partly, to keep myself from crying.”
He shows bravery and courage though when Magwitch tilts him upside down, Pip says, “If you would kindly please to let me keep upright, sir, perhaps I shouldn’t be sick and perhaps I could attend more.” He is very polite to the man and even though he is very frightened Pip shows his bravery. This shows a contrast between Pip and the horror of Magwitch.
The significance of the “gibbet… that once held a pirate.” at the end of chapter one is that it shows you what happens to Magwitch and how cruel the early 19th century law was.
In chapter three when Pip goes back to Magwitch with the food he has stolen from Mrs. Joe Gargery, Dickens creates a change in atmosphere between Pip and Magwitch.
Dickens makes us feel sympathy for Magwitch by showing how cold and hurt he was “hugging himself and limping to and fro.” And “He was awfully cold to be sure. I half expected to see him drop down before my face and die of deadly cold.”
Magwitch shown a more gentle side “He did not turn me upside down, this time, to get at what I had, but left me right side upwards while I opened the bundle and emptied my pockets.” He shown no sign of violence and didn’t touch Pip.
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He was very hungry “He was already handing mincemeat down his throat in the most curious manner.” And he again shown he was freezing “He shivered all the while so violently, that it was quite as much as he could do to keep the neck of the bottle between his teeth, without biting it off.”
Pip notices that Magwitch is very ill. “I think you have got the ague said I.” And Magwitch agrees with him “I’m much of your opinion boy said he.”
He shows he trusts Pip “You’re not a deceiving imp? You brought no one with you?” which Pip replies no. “Well, said he, I believe you. You’d be a fierce young hound indeed, if at your time of life you could help to hunt a wretched warmint, hunted as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched warmint is!” We are made to feel sorry for Magwitch he is the victim in this and shows Pip he trusts him a lot.
Magwitch shows how tired he was “And he smeared his ragged rough sleeve over his eyes.” Pip tells Magwitch he is glad he enjoys the pie he is eating “I am glad you enjoy it.” To which Magwitch replies “Thankee, my boy. I do.” The use of “My boy” shows he has a caring side to him and doesn’t always show violence- Dickens creates a better atmosphere between Pip and Magwitch which makes the reader feel sorry for him and start to like him more.
At the end of chapter five Magwitch saves Pip from getting into any trouble by telling the sergeant that he had stole some wittles, liquor and a pie. “I wish to say something respecting this escape. It may prevent some persons laying under suspicion alonger me.” Magwitch knew that Pip was there and to stop anyone from getting the blame he told them that he had stole them and didn’t mention about Pip to stop him from getting into trouble- this shows his kind and good side to him.
When Magwitch tells Joe he has ate his pie, Joe responds “God knows you’re welcome to it- so far as it was ever mine.” He shows his gentle and caring attitude to Magwitch by saying that he was welcome to have the pie. “We don’t know what you have done, but we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creature…” By the way Joe describes Magwitch as a “Poor miserable fellow-creature.” It makes the reader feel very sorry and sympathetic to the convict.
When Magwitch gets in the boat and is taken back to the hulks the reader feels deeply sorry for him, as the hulks were horrible prison ships full of disease and it was a frightening experience for the convicts on board. “We saw the black Noah’s ark. Cribbed and boarded and moored by massive rusty chains” It had bars on so the convicts were locked in- a really horrible place to be. Dickens shows the effect of the hulks by the way he describes the convicts “No one seemed surprised to see him, or interested in seeing him, or glad to see him or sorry to see him, or spoke a word.” They were terrified and they got treated awful so to be on the hulks was a horrific experience.
The reader feels a lot of tension and fear for Magwitch as they disappeared. “Then, the ends of the torches flung hissing into the water, and went out, as if it were all over with him.” It leaves the reader with an anxious feeling of what will happen to Magwitch.
The reader does not see Magwitch again until chapter 39, when it is many years later and Pip is living as a gentleman in London, as a result of funds from a mystery benefactor.
When Magwitch returns, we are reminded of the weather conditions of the stormy marshes on their first meeting in chapter one. Dickens describes the weather as “It was wretched weather; stormy and wet, stormy and wet; mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets.” It was horrible weather and he uses metaphors like ‘a vast heavy veil’. The weather is very dark and misty. Dickens also uses personification such as ‘so furious had been the gusts.’ And ‘violent blasts of rain has accompanied these rages of wind.’
Dickens creates pathetic fallacy to describe the weather and prepares us for the return of Magwitch. It shows the fear and terror that something bad will happen “the wind rushing up the river shook the house that night.”
When Magwitch and Pip meet again, Pip is very unhappy to see him and he is very snobbish and ungrateful. “I laid a hand upon his breast and put him away.” He doesn’t want Magwitch there and pushes him away. Pip speaks unkindly to Magwitch such as “Stay” Said I, “Keep off!” he doesn’t like him being there and doesn’t like Magwitch touching him and wants him to leave. “Will you drink something before you go?” Pip is very ungrateful to Magwitch and shows that he doesn’t want him to be there by his use of language and actions towards him.
However Magwitch is so pleased to see Pip but is disappointed by the reception he gets “it’s disappointing to a man” he said in a course, broken voice, “arter having looked for’ard so distant, and come so fur; but you’re not to blame that…” he’s upset that Pip is so cold towards him.
Magwitch shows great affection to Pip and wants to touch him and hold his hands “I saw with stupid amazement, that he was holding out both his hands to me.” And when Pip gives him his hands he kisses them “… I reluctantly gave him my hands. He grasped them heartily, raised them to his lips, kissed them, and still held them.” He’s very fond of Pip and is very happy to see him “I saw with amazement that his eyes were full of tears.” He is overcome with emotion and so happy to be there.
Magwitch shows Pip that everything he has done was for Pip. “… I’m your second father. You’re my son- more to me nor any son. I’ve put away money, only for you to spend.” He did everything for Pip- he admires him very much and shows Pip great devotion “…I’ll make that boy a gentleman! And I done it!”
Magwitch shows Pip how much he means to him because he risked his life to see him “I was sent for life. It’s death to come back. There’s been overmuch coming back of late years, and I should of a certainty be hanged if took.”
The readers’ reaction to Pip is that he is being very harsh and cruel to Magwitch however we understand the fear that he has and Dickens shows the general view that people had to convicts- even if they hadn’t committed a murder, people thought they were all terrible murderers and never saw the good side in them.
The reader feels very sympathetic to Magwitch that after everything he has done for Pip he is being rejected and treated harshly by Pip. We feel sorry to Magwitch because of the commitment and generosity he has shown to Pip and how disappointed and upset he is feeling by the cold reception.
Chapter 39 is a climax to the novel. When it was originally published in three volumes, Magwitch’s reappearance marked the end of the second volume and readers had to wait for the third volume to find out what happens next. Great expectations was so popular that there were massive queues of people waiting for the arrival of the next volume.
The following chapters show Magwitch reveals more to Pip about himself including his name. The significance of Dickens giving him the Christian name ‘Abel’ because in the old testament Abel was the victim in the story of Abel and his brother Cain, as Cain killed Abel. The significance is that Magwitch is also a victim.
In chapter 42 we are told about Magwitch’s unfortunate beginnings that led him to crime “a thieving turnips for my living.” He stole turnips just to be able to feed himself. He had no education “A deserting soldier in a Travellers rest, what lay hid up to the chin under a lot of taturs, learnt me to read; and a travelling Giant what signed his name at a penny a time learnt me to write.”
He would have worked but no one would employ him “Tramping, begging, thieving, working, sometimes when I could- though that warn’t as often as you may think, till you put the question whether you would ha’ been over-ready to give work yourselves.”
He tells that most of his life he was in and out of jail. He says he was tested to see what was wrong with him “they measured my head, some on’ em- they had better a measured my stomach.” He didn’t see why they were calling him a criminal just because he was poor and hungry and needed to get food. “They always went on agen me about the Devil. But what the devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach, mustn’t I?”
This shows the problems with crime during the Victorian period, due to poverty. Many people were faced with poverty and stole food to survive and if caught were badly treated although it’s such a small crime compared to that of murder. Magwitch’s story reflects the harsh punishment children had to face, even though they may have turned to crime to survive and avoid starvation.
“This is the way it was, that when I was a ragged little creetur as much to be pitied as ever I see… I got the name of being hardened.” Children got treated very badly and Dickens makes strong feelings through Magwitch to the way he feels about the cruelty of the justice system and the terrible experiences that he faced when he was a child.
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.’ They looked at their physical appearances and what they looked like was all took into account so because Magwitch wasn’t neatly dressed he was believed to be the criminal and because Compeyson was smartly dressed they didn’t punish him the same as they did to Magwitch. This shows the unfairness in the justice system. Compeyson made Magwitch look like the one who had arranged it all and hence the one who was most guilty of the crime. 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. Through the eyes of Magwitch, the readers can clearly see the unfairness and are also seeing Dickens strong feelings toward this and are beginning to feel the same about it. 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 he has been caught, we see Pip’s feelings for Magwitch have changed. “For now my repugnance to him had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years.” Pip realises how good Magwitch has been to him and now shows warmth and cares for him. He holds Magwitch’s hand and realises that Magwitch is a kind and caring man, Pip shows love towards him. Dickens uses these emotive words to make the reader feel deeply sorry for Magwitch and to describe Magwitch inspires great sympathy for him. Pip realises how badly he has treated not only Magwitch but also Joe. “I only saw in him a much better man then I had been to Joe.” This changes the reader’s views towards Magwitch. At the end of the chapter Pip says to Magwitch “I will be as true to you as you have been to me!” Pip has realised the good in Magwitch and deeply cares for him, this makes the reader feel very sorry for Magwitch and they feel warmth towards him. Dickens is showing criminals shouldn’t be prejudged as bad people because not all were. In chapter 56, we see how badly Magwitch is treated in prison and the lack of compassion shown by the court. “He had broken two ribs, they had wounded one of his lungs and he breathed with great pain and difficulty, which increased daily.” This shows how ill Magwitch was and the hurt he was feeling, he was very poorly treated. “And but for his illness he would have been put in irons.” He was far too ill to have chains on him but if he wouldn’t have been that ill they still would have put him in irons, they had no respect for him and didn’t care. Mr Jaggers even applied for the trial to be postponed so they could put it off and let Magwitch die naturally but it was refused. “It was obviously made with the assurance that he could not live so long and was refused.” This shows the court had no compassion towards him. There was no justice and the courts were unflexible, they were told how Magwitch had worked and done well for himself but they still didn’t change their minds. “Such things as could be said for him were said- how he had taken to industrious habitats, and had thriven lawfully and reputably. But nothing could unsay the fact that he had returned.” Pip describes it as a “terrible experience.” And how they concluded the day with the death sentences, they saved the worst until last and “to make a finishing effect with the sentence of death.” It was like a show and the last finishing effect to make a point to others with the sentence of death. It was a horrible experience for the prisoners “I could scarcely believe, even as I write these words, that I saw two- and- thirty men and women put before the judge to receive that sentence together.” It was a terrifying experience for them and they were treated like animals “penned in the dock.” Pip describes the terror the prisoners faced “some stricken with terror, some sobbing and weeping, some covering their faces, some staring gloomily about. There had been shrieks from among the women convicts, but they had been stilled and a hush had succeeded.” They were so frightened and it was terrible for them. A large audience watched the prisoners like it was entertainment “a great gallery full of people- a large theatrical audience- looked on.” Dickens shows his hatred of the judges and sheriffs, how they have no respect and they’re full of themselves and Dickens shows his hatred for them and the judical system. “The sheriffs with their great chains and nosegays, other civic gewgaws and monsters.” The reader also feels hatred towards the judical system by the way they treat the prisoners and how Dickens own feelings about the judical system are shown through Pip. Dickens shows that Magwitch is repentant. Magwitch says “My Lord, I have receive my sentence of death from the almighty, but I bow to yours.” He is saying he is going to die anyway but he respects the judge’s punishment as well. This shows he is very sorry and Dickens has shown the good in Magwitch and Pip has realised this. This is very important to Magwitch and he says to Pip “Thankee, dear boy, thankee. God bless you! You’ve never deserted me, dear boy.” And “And what’s best of all,” he said, “You’ve been more comfortable alonger me since I was under a dark cloud, than when the sun shone. That’s best of all.” Dickens describes that there is a “shaft of light” between the judge and the 32 prisoners condemned to death, in the courtroom. The message is that they are all equal in the eyes of God and God will judge all of them including the judge. Dickens shows Pip’s feelings towards Magwitch he says “For several days and nights after he was sentenced I took no rest”, “but was wholly absorbed in these appeals.” Pip tried everything to help Magwitch by sending many appeals and he cares deeply for him. In the hospital when Magwitch is dying Pip holds Magwitch and tells him about his daughter Estella and the love he for her. Magwitch dies happily and Pip loves him very much. There is a contrast from Pip’s feelings shown earlier in the novel, he has realised the good in Magwitch and deeply loves him. At the end of the chapter Pip says “O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner.” This is a reference from Luke 18:10-14, Dickens is showing Magwitch is a good man and God will forgive him. In conclusion to the novel we have seen several changes and developments in the character Magwitch- at the beginning we see in him a stereotypical criminal that grows to become a kind and generous benefactor to Pip. We’ve seen the struggles and how badly Magwitch is treated in the courts and how harsh the Victorian society was. Dickens expresses his views on the Victorian society showing his hatred and anger towards the judical system making the reader feel very sorry for Magwitch and feels Dickens’ views as well. Dickens has made a point of showing how harshly people were judged as stereotypical criminals when really they weren’t a bad murderer they were just trying to survive the poverty that they faced, the story reflects the number of people like Magwitch who had suffered in the same unfair way that Magwitch had been treated. It’s a warming story that emphasises the poor treatment that Magwitch faced and then how the love between both Pip and Magwitch grows between them- it’s a story of love, hurt and sadness- there’s a lot of mixed emotions throughout the novel and Dickens writes so brilliantly that the reader feels all of them.