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Defining Magwitch In Great Expectations Essay

1641 words - 7 pages

Defining Magwitch in Great Expectations

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. He resorts to cruelty by saying another convict is
hiding with him and then he threatens to kill Pip, "I'll cut your
throat". When Magwitch is first described as a man "who had been
soaked in water, and smothered in mood," we feel a little sympathy
towards him because he is obviously in poor health.

Although Magwitch is portrayed as an unpleasant man throughout the
text, there is a hint of kindness in his cold character and our
feelings about him begin to change. Unexpectedly, Magwitch shows his
sense of justice and loyalty when he admits to the theft of the pie,
"Then I'm sorry to say, I've eat your pie" ensuring that Pip does not
get the blame for the theft himself. There is a sense of gratitude on
his part which the reader has to respect. We see this kindness again
when Pip goes to the pub with Joe, Mr. Wopsle and a stranger one
night. During the course of the evening, the stranger brings a file
out of his pocket to stir his drink. The file he uses is identical to
the one Pip gave to Magwitch that night on the marshes. Later the
stranger gave Pip a shilling rapped in two pound notes. This
generosity soon becomes obvious to the reader and that the money is
from Magwitch. It is these moments of compassion which alter the
reader's view of the violent bully and create a sense of respect for

Magwitch describes his life as "in jail and out of jail" and in his
own words he tells us that he is a criminal, but that he is not
ashamed. It is not surprising considering that he was abandoned from
an early age and so he was "ill brought up" and "a thieving turnip"
was the only way for him to stay alive. Jail was...

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