The Contrasting Evil and Kindness of Magwitch in Great Expectations

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In Charles Dickens acclaimed classic ‘Great Expectations’ the character of Magwitch portrays a sense of evil and kindness towards a blacksmiths son Pip formally known as Philip Pirrip. The novel helps to incorporate the conditions experienced by many people in the nineteenth century. These conditions were especially harsh on criminals, punishments were a major factor and many people feared them, punishments such as transportation for life, complete banishment, rotting jail cells and of course the death sentence were still all being implemented at the time. We learn of several intolerable punishments that the evil Magwitch experiences such as the cruelties of the British judicial system with its mass executions. Although Magwitch introduces these themes he also presents us with his other side: the true qualities of a gentleman- decency, honesty and friendship of which Magwitch has never and will never forget: the friendship that pip showed him in chapter one of this extraordinary classic.

In this assignment I will analyse and explain the importance of the criminal Magwitch with close reference to chapters one, thirty nine and fifty six in which Magwitch shows both sides: the criminal side of him and then the honourable side.

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The first chapter opens with Pip alone on the dark, dank, dreary, misty and lonely Essex marshes as a vas a young boy. Pip is visiting his deceased parents and sibling’s graves when the character of Magwitch first emerges from the marshes. The landscape in this scene is created for a special purpose: to make us feel the terror that pip fears towards the character Magwitch. The landscape is used in such a way so that Magwitch is centre of attention the land is flat, empty and desolate, its like a stage for Magwitch to fill, and that helps us see Magwitch as huge and terrifying, which is really how little Pip sees him. We are made to look at Magwitch from how a young child would see him; overpowering and gigantic. We know that Pip fears Magwitch because he repeats several times “Oh! Don’t cut my throat sir.” He fears Magwitch, as much as man fears death. The scene is set to make us feel the same loneliness that pip feels in the churchyard with his deceased family laid out six foot under him. Also the Essex marshes cannot be a very busy place so we get the impression it is a desolate place in the middle of nowhere.

Charles Dickens uses language in all his novels to bring them to life. In great expectations the language is used in the first chapter to terrify us and most importantly scare the living daylights out of Pip. An example of threatening language in chapter one could be “you young dog, said the man, licking his lips, ‘what fat cheeks ya got.” Magwitch uses scary colourful language to disturb pip and put him on edge and we no that he succeeds because Pip stutters and his language isn’t very consistent. Magwitch’s language is devious and cunning and is used in such a way to push Pip into a corner, he makes it impossible for Pip to back out: “a boy may lock his door, may be warm in bed, may tuck himself up.. may think himself comfortable and safe, but the young man will creep and creep his way to him and tear him open.” In this extract Magwitch refers to one of his fellow convicts, Compeyson. Magwitch and Compeyson end up getting caught and transported to a distant country.

Before Magwitch gets caught he receives an act of kindness, which helps us see the real him- not just a convict but also a true gentleman. Pip brings Magwitch a file to cut off the chains and brings him food to feed him and this is where we are made to remember him because Magwitch is the man that will turn Pip into a snob but unintentionally.

Several years later when Pip has grown up and is now by social standards- a gentleman. He now lives in London and has come into money by a mystery benefactor. Pip has now basically disowned his father Joe Gargery and is living with a roommate Herbert Pocket who has taught Pip how to act around the upper class. Pips life is certainly being lived to the full, he is living like a king compared to how he was living previously but he is fast running up debts and has yet to learn to appreciate that the best things in life are free: love, compassion, integrity and family, not money.

Magwitch enters the scene on a typical wet stormy night. The wretched weather sees Magwitch return to Pips apartment in the upper class area of London. We are made to imagine the weather conditions; the images created in our heads from reading the novel are reinforced by the use of similes. Dickens uses the similes like “the wind rushing up the river shook the house that night, like discharges of cannon or breakings of a sea” to describe the conditions that Magwitch brings with him as he enters the scene.

Pip is very anxious to get rid of Magwitch as he enters his lodgings because at this point he does not recognise this rather different Magwitch to what he was several years before. Pip at one point tries to pay Magwitch to leave once he realises who he is but he still by this point has not worked out that Magwitch is the secret benefactor that has kept Pip in the living standards of which he is now accustom. Up until this point in the novel Pip has always believed that the money had come from a honourable source and had believed this to be Miss Havisham. Magwitch released the truth onto Pip like the plague was released onto England, “Yes, Pip dear boy, I’ve made a gentlemen out of you. Its me wot has done it.”

Pips reaction to say the least was not a very polite one, he believed that Miss Havisham had gave him the money so that he could become a upstanding fine young gentleman and when the time came he would eventually marry Estella, Miss Havisham’s daughter. He thought it was all part of a devious plan to get him married to the wife of his dreams, but in fact it is now the opposite, all his dreams have been shattered. Pip now knows that for the past several years he has been living on ‘bent’ money it has bad money. Pip shows slight remorse and lets Magwitch stay the night.

Magwitch is developed from a crook into a decent man; Dickens exploits the term ‘gentleman’ and explores this term to insinuate a hidden meaning. The dictionary definition now and then of the term ‘gentleman’ is a courteous or honourable man of which Joe Gargery is but Dickens uses the second term quoted in the dictionary; ‘a man of good social position, especially one of wealth and leisure’ to truly exploit the true meaning of the word. He confuses the terms because he calls pip a gentleman several times but yet the real gentlemen is not recognised for his qualities: Joe Gargery. In this novel a gentleman seems to be measured upon his social status not on his honour.

We later encounter Magwitch further on chapter fifty-six. After the failed attempt to flee England and head to the continent by hoping onto a crossing ferry Magwitch is horribly injured and had severe injuries. The chapter is set in Newgate prison with Magwitch lying on his soon to be deathbed.

Before Magwitch dies Pip finally turns back into a true gentleman as he realises that no matter how much money you have it is insignificant what is really important is: love, compassion, courage and most importantly friendship. Pip realises that money can’t buy true friends and that no matter what happens we are all equals. He has finally realised that him and Magwitch are all both equal and the wall of snobbery that pip has been surrounded in has melted like an ice cube under a hot tap. You could say that his earlier burden of liasing with a criminal has now been lifted and he is now quite tolerant and pleasant.

Pips love for Estella has finally built up just like Pips courage and to comfort a dieing man Pip explains that his long lost daughter, lives and has grown into a beautiful women and needs for nothing. Although this isn’t true and she has grown up into a cold, bitter and twisted woman he yet again shows true kindness by letting him die in peace. But he also goes onto say “She lived and found powerful friends. She is living now. She is a lady and very beautiful. And I love her!” Pip declares that he loves Estella and this brings added comfort to Magwitch knowing that Pip- his son he never had loves his real daughter of which he has never met.

The novel as a whole I feel has been centred around Pip and Magwitch’s qualities as individuals. They both do a role reversal from the first time they meet to the second time. Magwitch is an evil, self-indulgent criminal and Pip is an innocent honourable boy. Then several years later Magwitch does honourable an thing which changes him into a better person but unfortunately Pip has changed and is now very stuck up and snobbish. But by the end Pip realises what is important and what and who really matters which sees a serious change in Pip’s attitude. Magwitch’s role is very important because it helps us see how people change due to insignificant objects- money and he teaches us to appreciate the free things in life because they are what really matter. Pip and Magwitch combine to create that message and we see the changes in each character and it helps us see who is the better man and the more honourable.

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The Contrasting Evil and Kindness of Magwitch in Great Expectations. (2017, Oct 08). Retrieved from

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