Great Expectations

With particular reference to chapters one, thirty-nine and fifty-six, explore the importance of Magwitch in the story of ‘Great Expectations’. Charles Dickens was born on the seventh of February in 1812. When he was twelve, his farther was put in a Debtors prison while he lived in London. He was not very rich as he occupied mainly manual jobs at the start of his career. Gradually he moved up to a court reporter and then finally a novelist. This was to be known as the time when Dickens started producing his most well known books.

Great Expectations is a novel showing us how the protagonist; Pip, advances through his life by attempting to upgrade his social status. Dickens comments on the ways in which he viewed life and the different things that surrounded it as he grew up. The book is written as if the author is a social commentator and he criticises the various points of his life as Pip. Dickens was a critic of poverty and Victorian standards and he uses the growth of his characters in relation to others to demonstrate his views on social reform. His first person narrative style allows him to emphasise the negative aspects of Pip. Great Expectations is also one of Dickens’s most autobiographical novels as he looks back on his life. He displays it as a book of self-education with touches of mystery and romance, also known as a “Bildungsroman”.

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I believe that Charles Dickens uses a certain character to highlight Pip’s changes into becoming gentlemen. He uses Magwitch as a representative of the criminal class. Pip’s fate is controlled by Magwitch to a certain extent, which is why he is such a significant character. Dickens comments on Victorian attitudes towards crime through Magwitch’s acts. This illuminates what Pip wants to achieve in life and what he requires to proceed to accomplish them. Although Magwitch is a criminal, there are definite similarities between him and Pip. They are both at the same level of development at the introduction of Great Expectations.

This lets Dickens relate Pip to Magwitch’s situation and help Pip develop through their similarities. Magwitch can then provide a way for Pip to become a higher status which is why he can be seen as a “Catalyst”. However, he can therefore bring Pip back down by being sentimental with his financial power over Pip. This will lead to different choices for Magwitch resulting in his importance being emphasised again. At the same time, Pip is immature and innocent which makes his interpretations alter his status increased and great social changes were structuring the nation. Pip is always afraid of the consequences and not in seeing that he has done something wrong. This leads him to become more selfish and he has not learnt to appreciate human affection and love above his ideal perception of the world.

Dickens starts off Great Expectations by setting it in a churchyard. This immediately introduces a threatening atmosphere, which is also triggered by nature as well. It is a misty and wild scene both in setting, and in mood. “Savage lair” and ” overgrown,” suggests that the surroundings are almost alive. It also gives the reader the sense that there is something is watching Pip and lurking around him as he visits the graveyard. The hazy air and the “wind rushing in” adds suspense as it feels as if someone is closing in on him and almost touching him. This builds up the tension as another major character is introduced into Great Expectations.

Magwitch is presented as a “fearful man” and Dickens uses him to represent the lowest class as he is a criminal. However, his appearance betrays his character as will be revealed in chapter thirty-nine. Dickens is trying to create a contrast between the two sides of the convict. He establishes that Magwitch may not be what he seems to be from the outside. The boy makes such a deep impression on the criminal that he decides to aid him financially as Pip’s benefactor. The writer starts the plot off dynamically through rapidly introducing the scene and the protagonist and even presenting the conflict of the novel as Magwitch.

It gives us an idea about Pip’s past; he is an orphan and has five dead brothers. Dickens makes this especially effective by using a first person narrative view, which helps the reader believe that they are actually involved in a disclosing and intimate conversation that is taking place between Pip and the convict. The sense of tension is established almost immediately whilst the reader sympathises with Pip. The audience discovers that Pip leads a difficult life although he shows signs of innocence and an immature character. As the adult Pip narrates he says “I drew childish a childish conclusion”. This tells the audience that Pip is young and vulnerable with much to learn.

Because Pip is an orphan, he can be seen as an exposed child. He also shows himself to be alone in the sense he has no history. “I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip”, this shows us how he has had to invent his own identity because he has no one, which ultimately makes him no one. Although he does live with his sister, he does not share the same name as her, “Mrs Joe Gargery”. This makes Pip seem even more isolated and defenceless.