Charles Dickens wrote the novel “Great Expectations” in 1861, however the main action of the novel is set between 1807-1823, and the opening scene is set in a churchyard upon the Kent marshes. It is here where we first meet the character of Magwitch. A young, orphan boy named Pip is visiting the graves of his parents when he is scared by Magwitch and told to “Keep still you little devil or I’ll cut your throat” As the reader meets the character of Magwitch the reader doesn’t feel sympathy for Magwitch as the reader sees him through Pips eyes. Pip sees Magwitch as this big, scary, rugged prisoner who could be very violent. Pip could possibly be in fear of his life.
In some ways Pip is a victim because all Magwitch wants from Pip is to own a gentleman. In the genre that this novel is set, the idea that a convict (who would have been considered as the lowest class of society) could produce a sophisticated gentleman would have been a comical idea and virtually unheard of. Pip is an orphan boy who is living with his horrible sister as he grows up. The reader learns that as Pip is growing up, he becomes an apprentice to Joe the Blacksmith. As he is being apprenticed he becomes very discontented with the direction that his life is heading because he wants a wealthier way of life for himself. Pip hears about his “Great Expectations” and immediately drops Joe as he is starting to feel superior to him.
On Pips 21st birthday he inherits ï¿½500, which in the timeframe this novel is set in, would have been considered a fortune. On a dark and stormy night Magwitch tracks down Pip. Magwitch tells Pip his life story, which mainly consists of being put in and out of prison. “I am not a-going to tell you my life… I’ll put it at once into one mouthful of English. In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail…” Magwitch carries on to talk about how he grew up only to be known as Magwitch and how he never had a proper home. He also pointed out the fact that people had just given up on him. Dickens tries to make the reader feel sympathy for Magwitch by telling the reader that Magwitch was never educated properly. “A deserting solider in a Travellers Rest… taught me to read; and a travelling Giant what signed his name at a penny a time learnt me to write”.
Magwitch goes on to tell the reader about how he met got acquainted with a man who he had seriously hurt many years before. His name was Compeyson. He had a good upbringing and Magwitch thought that he would help him become a better person and be considered a gentleman. In reality Compeyson wanted to use Magwitch to commit crimes for his own personal benefit and if things went wrong he had someone to lay the blame on. “Compeyson took me on and made me his man and pardner.” Compeyson’s line of business was forging things and handling stolen bank notes.
Magwitch risked a lot for Compeyson as he looked up to him. “I was always in debt to him, always under his thumb, always a working a getting into danger.” Whenever they got caught Magwitch got more of the blame than Compeyson ever did. Whenever in court, the judges would judge Magwitch based solely on his past “Judge perceives to be a old offender of violent past” He didn’t even give him a chance to clear his name. He based his decision on what Magwitch had done in his past and never gave a thought to whether he was a changed man or not Magwitch is then exiled to Australia for the rest of his life because of the crimes he committed with Compeyson.
Although Pip is horrified to see Magwitch he knows that he is in serious danger if he is found in England and decides to help Magwitch escape to France. But on the way they encounter Compeyson and Magwitch ends up fighting. This leads to Magwitch becoming seriously injured and eventually his capture. Throughout these events in the novel the reader develops a sense of sympathy for Magwitch after all he has been through, compared to the sense of anger and possible hatred towards him in the beginning of the novel.
Dickens gradually develops this sense of sympathy throughout the last few chapters of the novel. This feeling originates in Chapter 41, in which Magwitch pays Pip a visit. It develops a bit more in Chapter 42 when Magwitch tells his life story to Pip and gets bigger over the remaining 17 chapters of the novel. Dickens encourages you to use your imagination when feeling sympathy for the character of Magwitch as he can be seen in two different ways. He can be seen as a very unfortunate individual who has had a lot of bad luck, or he can be seen as someone who has got everything that was already coming to them. That choice is the readers to make.