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Great Expectations – Why is Magwitch an Important Character in the Novel?

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    The character Magwitch is the first character the narrator Pip meets in the novel. The first meeting is not altogether very friendly, vivid ideas about the character are created by Dickens’s description. Magwitch plays the part of a convict imprisoned most likely because of debt. The convict persona is later altered and modified by Dickens in the novel as he presents the ideas that Magwitch is affectionate, caring and does not deserve his earlier hardships. The idea of the character being a convict may cause readers who have strong opinions already developed to be bias against him. Dickens still expresses his views on injustice and the drawbacks of the social system effectively.

    In the first chapter of ‘Great Expectations’, Pip (the first person narrator) has a confrontation with the convict Magwitch in a graveyard on the marshes. The chapter is set on a marshy area by a river in a churchyard: “ours was the marsh country, down by the river”; “was the churchyard” show this. The narrative describes the churchyard being a “bleak place overgrown with nettles” and explains, “The distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea”. The churchyard scene gives a, cold and dark impression, somewhere most readers would probably not like to be on a cold day or night.

    The actual confrontation with Pip and the convict is sudden and is quite shocking.”‘ Hold your noise!’ cried a terrible voice, as a man started up” this quick, spontaneous meeting creates suspense and tension giving the convict a more frightening appeal. “Keep still you little devil, or I’ll cut your throat” this expression from the convict Magwitch is quite offensive and nasty. The idea that the convict will kill Pip gives an even more aggressive feel about him. Further speech where Magwitch threatens and rushes Pip portrays a stereotypical criminal feel. Dialogue such as “‘Tell us your name!’ said the man. ‘Quick'” and “‘What fat cheeks you ha’ got ………’darn me if I couldn’t eat em,’ said the man with a threatening shake of his head” gives this feeling. The way Pip reacts to this language is expressed in the narration “I pleaded in terror”. It gives the idea that he is helpless and afraid. The collection of actions, conversation and thoughts all create a very terrible and unpleasant persona of Magwitch, Dickens is presenting him as an unfavorable character in an attempt to influence the reader.

    The descriptions of Magwitch before his conversation with Pip presents modified ideas, which do not correlate with the ideas I have already explained; some statements are more sympathetic towards him. Dickens uses Pip’s narration to add thoughts that the convict has been through great hardship. Magwitch is said to be “all coarse and grey” which shows that at first glance he seems like a very common laboring man with an ill look about him. The further depiction of Magwitch suggests that he has suffered extensively. “A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head” these sentences display the convict as having clothing in bad condition and he seems to have been robed of items such as his hat. “A man who 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; who limped, and shivered, and glared and growled”.

    This vivid description is like a burst of thoughts and the short sentence points have beat effect giving more emphasis. The language such as ‘smothered in mud’; ‘lamed by stones’ and ‘cut by flints’ propose that Magwitch has under gone pain and has suffered at the hands of others. Dickens has used the previously quoted actions and words such as ‘shivered’ to describe Magwitch. The illustration conveys a possibly metaphorical effect intended to mock and disagree slightly with the harsh treatment of convicts in Britain at the time the book was written. This hinted idea gives an edge to Magwitch, which although may at first go unnoticed by audiences, later becomes a significant point. When Pip travels home from the graveyard he starts to notice more sinister features of the landscape “the sky was just a row of angry redlines”. This narration continues to press ideas to the reader of an unlikable character. The way Dickens uses this child-beating figure represents the dreadful persona of Magwitch.

    Soon after the section the confrontation Pip goes back to the marshes to bring Magwitch the things he’d asked him to bring him. It is mainly because of fear that Pip does this, which again supports Dickens first presentations of Magwitch. When Pip confronts Magwitch, Magwitch rapidly eats the food Pip has brought. “He was already handing mincemeat down his throat” and “He was gobbling mincemeat” giving the impression that he deserved it and it was not fair to deprive him of such a small amenity. The speech has less tension with Pip and Magwitch seeming to be less nervous and anxious to talk to each other.

    Magwitch uses much nicer language such as when Pip asks him if he enjoyed the food “Thankee, my boy. I do”. Also there is wording amongst the text that present a different idea of Magwitch “said my friend, stopping in his crunching of pie-crust”. There is a moment in the text which hints that Pip’s idea that the convict has changed, this also may influence the readers ideas, as this quote shows “He held me by the collar and started at me so, that I began to think his first idea about cutting my throat had revived”. After this meeting we see that Magwitch reverts to the evil convict role again. Magwitch uses a file to cut the iron in an attempt to supposedly beat up another convict on the marshes this is shown when he says, “Show me the way he went. I’ll pull him down, like a bloodhound.” This again creates a horrific character resemblance. This section shows that there is a possibility of readers changing their of changing view of Magwitch, even though he is a convict. It is supported by the way Pip had a slight change of heart during their last meeting.

    At Pip and Magwitch’s next reunion we see the recovery of Magwitch’s criminal sentence; he is shipped off in a prison ship to another country. A group soldier, Joe, Mr. Wopsle and Pip find Magwitch fighting with another convict in an attempt to prevent him from escaping. The soldiers want to recapture the escaped convicts. When confronted by the soldiers Magwitch explains that the convict he was with was trying to escape and that he kept him from doing so. “I’d have held to him with that grip, that you should have been safe to find him in my hold.” this action gives the idea that Magwitch had done something good. The other convict explains, “He tried to murder me. I should have been a dead man if had not come” which opposes the first idea that Magwitch had done a good deed. The soldiers later ignore this chance that maybe Magwitch has redeemed himself “‘Enough of this parley,’ said the sergeant”.

    Although not very significant it presents the idea that the Magwitch is not given any chances by the justice system and is considered forever a convict. The conflict with the other convict suggests that Magwitch is a murderer, again raising suspicions and opinions that he is still a very savage person. When Pip sees that it is the convict he met he tries to make out that he did not lead the party of soldiers to him “I might try to assure him of my innocence”. When Magwitch sees Pip’s expression he realizes it was not Pip’s doing. He later confesses to the sergeant that he stole some things from the blacksmith (Joe) “A man can’t starve; at least I can’t. I took some wittles, up at the village over yonder……… From the blacksmith’s”. This is actually not true because Pip brought him the things. Here Dickens is presenting Magwitch as protective towards Pip and that he appreciates what he did for him. The overall idea shown by this section is that Magwitch may not be such a bad character and may have feelings himself. He takes the blame for Pip’s actions, something that is quite responsible to do.

    A lot later in the novel, when Pip is in London, we see Magwitch reappear since he went on the ship. Pip is unaware that Magwitch is coming to meet him and has no idea that he was his benefactor. When Pip is finds that the man at the door of his apartment is the convict he is quite afraid and is very unsettled. At this point in the book Pip is along in his London apartment while his friend Herbert is away on business. It is nighttime and Dickens gives description, which sets a vivid scene. “It was wretched weather; stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets”. The way Dickens uses ideas of weather to create tension and suspense is very similar to way he set the scene in Pip’s fist encounter with Magwitch. The weather is miserable and some instances are frightening which presents the thought that something.

    After Pip has met Magwitch again we see their relationship start to strengthen and both start to like each other. As Magwitch is back in England illegally, police officials are hunting him wanting to get him back in prison. Pip shows consideration towards Magwitch as he and Herbet make an attempt to liberate the convict. “If all goes well; said I, ‘you will be perfectly free and safe again'”. This is said by Pip talking to Magwitch, it shows how they both seem to talk to each other more affectionately. “‘and said, smiling with that softened air upon him which was not new to me: ‘Ay, Is ‘pose I think so, dear boy'”. This new dialogue suggests very much that Pip and Magwitch get along well like they are life long friends. The way Pip says “not new to me:” could show that he enjoys Magwitch’s company and fells that they have known each other for a long time. It helps sustain the idea that Pip and Magwitch get along like father and son, each other replacing the type of figure both never had. Dickens may be conveying a metaphor, from the two characters, his thoughts about his own father who he never saw again after becoming a convict. The bond of the characters may have been similar to what Dickens hoped for.

    They try to escape out of England to a safe point for Abel. They make good progress but the officials find them after being tipped of by Compeyson (the other convict on the marshes at the start of the book). When the escapees are about to be captured he has a conflict with his enemy. They fight in the water were the boats are; unaware that a steam boat is approaching. In risk of death, Pip jumps in and saves Magwitch leaving the other convict to be killed by the steamboat. This is a drastic contrast to the first meeting of the characters. It shows how Pip’s attitude towards Magwitch has changed: firstly afraid of the murderous convict; now wiling to save his friends life. The atmosphere created gives the sense that both seem indebted towards each other; a sense fueled by the deeds each has done for the other. This is the most important point in the way Dickens presents Magwitch.

    In the final episode of Magwitch’s part in the novel we see him in the prison infirmary, very ill and in danger of dying. The description of Pip’s view of Magwitch’s illness creates the picture that Pip is upset and overwhelmed. “Although I saw him every day, it was for only a short time; hence, the regularly recurring spaces of our separation were long enough to record on his face any slight changes that occurred in his physical state” this and this further quote show the felling. “he wasted, and became slowly weaker and worse”. The language also shows that Pip and Abel recognize the change between them. “with a trustful look, as if he were confident that I had seen small redeeming touch in him”. The dwelling of Magwitch is portrayed as minimal and darkened with an idea presented that Magwitch was miserable but was happier when Pip would visit him. “the white ceiling, with an absence of light in his face, until some word of mine brightened it for an instant”.

    Magwitch’s is given the death sentence but does not never is hanged as he dies in hospital. Nearing his death they have a final conversation. It is now obvious with the further speech that both see the trust and loyalty the bond possesses. “I pressed his hand in silence, for I could not forget that I had once meant to desert him” this shows Pip regrets the time he thought of ignoring Magwitch’s pleads on the marshes. “‘And what’s the best of all,’ he said, ‘you’ve been more comfortable along me, since I was under a dark cloud, than when the sun shone'”. This identifies that Magwitch values the fact that Pip helped him not only when he knew about his funding but also when Magwitch was an offensive convict. As an opposite to the start of the book Pip’s and Magwitch’s movements are gentle, slower and less sudden. “A gentle pressure on my hand” and ” Then gently let it sink upon his breast” are quotes that show this. At the start of the book movements are much more drastic “as he seized me by the chin”. The language shows the change in speed but also the sentence structure. At the start of the book usually the sentences are shorter or are broken up more regularly with colons and comas. The change makes the contrast even more obvious.

    As Magwitch is about to die Pip tells him about Estella “She lived and found powerful friends. She is living now. She is a lady and very beautiful. And I love her!”. “he raised my hand to his lips”; “no better words that I could say beside his bed, than ‘O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner!”. These acts and words show the deep affection they both have for each other. Magwitch seems to find comfort in the fact that his daughter is well and is for filled with the bond Pip has with her, maybe the ending he would have liked. This is the summit of their friendship.

    In the novel, at first, we are repelled by Magwitch’s coarse appearance and rough habits but as we learn of his awful brutal life we become more sympathetic towards him. His pride in the gentleman he has created in Pip is touching. Later in the plot Pip notices that his character softens and he forms a strong affection for the convict. Magwitch feels that Pip is a replacement for the child he lost. Moving scenes such as the one were Pip tells Magwitch that his daughter (Estella) is alive and a beautiful lady increasingly alters reader’s first opinions of the convict that was on the marshes. The character is in many ways a metaphor for Charles Dickens’s feelings and thoughts of his own father in real life; who was a victim of the justice system being imprisoned for debt.

    Great Expectations – Why is Magwitch an Important Character in the Novel?. (2017, Oct 16). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/great-expectations-magwitch-important-character-novel/

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