Charles Dickens believed that there are exceptions to all criminals being bad, in the sense that you cannot determine a person’s character just because he commits a crime but rather by his motives for doing it. Dickens expresses his theory in Great Expectations through Characters such as Abel Magwitch who is a criminal who seeks redemption and Compeyson who is a criminal who wishes to do nothing more than to swindle people.
A criminal by definition is someone who breaks the laws set by society (government), therefore although these characters are not stated or known as criminals in the novel Pip, Herbert, and Wemmick by definition can also be considered as criminals for helping Magwitch, this proves that Dickens also believed that anyone can be a criminal not just people of low social class even the innocent but, Dickens did not fail to expose that criminals can be bad and that even though some criminals do not chose to live the life they do there are those who like the life of crime , which he shows through Compeyson.
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The character Compeyson represents Charles Dickens ideal image of a criminal and in fact Compeyson is the stereotypical criminal with the exception thathe is not a lowly criminal but that of a gentleman: “He set up fur a gentleman, this Compeyson, and he’d been to a public boarding school and had learning. He was a smooth one to talk and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks. He was good looking too” (Pg. 343).
Although Compeyson is a gentleman he chooses a life of crime, his motives for committing crimes is simply for the fun of swindling people he is portrayed as a cold hearted and disloyal man in which Dickens wished to fully convey as his view of a bad person. Compeyson is much smarter than the average criminal for example Magwitch and uses his wit to manipulate his partners. In the novel it was said that Compeyson had a former partner by the name of Arthur who helped Compeyson form an elaborate plan to steal money from his own sister in law namely Miss Havisham and leave her at the alter on the day of their wedding day.
After which his partner Arthur unable to bear the guilt of what he had done killed himself and Compeyson shows no remorse even saying that it’s a good riddance (Pg. 345). This shows how low Compeyson is in terms of him as a person, not caring for his own partner and shows no guilt for using him as nothing more than a tool for committing the crime. It is also revealed that Compeyson had a wife that he kicked mostly, here Charles Dickens further develops Compeyson’s bad image by adding minor details that he abuses his wife giving readers a foul image of him and a general dislike for his character.
Compeyson also has history with the more redeemable criminal Abel Magwitch and it becomes evident that Magwitch was used by Compeyson just like Arthur was. In the novel Magwitch tells Pip of how he met Compeyson, Magwitch meets him a couple years back before ever meeting Pip and they quickly become accomplices, after getting committed for felony on the charge of putting stolen notes in circulation and other charges, Magwitch and Compeyson were both sent to trial, Compeyson deserted Magwitch and made it seem like Magwitch did all the dirty work and he was helpless under him.
The fact that unlike Magwitch, Compeyson is a gentleman and younger works in his favour and he is given a lighter sentence, exactly 7 years to Magwitch’s 14 year sentence: “when we was put in the dock…ain’t it me as the judge perceives to bea old offender of wiolent passion, likely to come to worse? ” (Pg. 346-347).
Charles Dickens again gives more information on Compeyson’s past involving Magwitch to show what a dark and sinister person he really is , he sold out yet another accomplice proving that he is indeed bad person because instead of him to try to help Magwitch he looks out for himself and ensures his verdict is lighter, Here Dickens uses bad characteristics as his evidence that he is bad .
Later in the novel when Pip is aware of him, Compeyson becomes the main antagonist as he tries to foil Pip’s plans of helping Magwitch; the antagonist is usually a bad person in any play, novel or film so Dickens supports his view of Compeyson being a bad person by subjecting him into this role and not only does Dickens support that Compeyson is a bad criminal by him being dangerous, cold and untrustworthy he also shows the difference in character between him and Magwitch because
Compeyson was afforded a great opportunity in life him being a gentleman and yet he wasted his life being a criminal when he could have become so much more in life unlike Magwitch who was not granted the same opportunities. The character Abel Magwitch in the novel represents Charles Dickens exception to the belief that all criminals are bad people.
Magwitch is first introduced in the novel through the eyes of Pip the main character: “A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg. A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head. 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; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized me by the chin” (Pg. ). Here Dickens uses powerful adjectives to describe Magwitch as most people would view a criminal to suggest that his appearance was just as he was which is low. The impression of Magwitch at this point would be a bad person purely base on dickens description of him, I believe that Dickens does this purposely not only to relate how Pip felt but to later prove that not everything is what it appears to be.
Magwitch at this point of the novel has just escaped from prison and threatens Pip into retrieving food and file to remove his shackles, here Magwitch is given a negative image by corrupting Pip, an innocent child to steal for him contrasting Dickens belief but readers are also given a hint of compassion through Pip who instantly sees redeeming qualities within the criminal Magwitch who although he sees as terrifying but also as a starving, shaken man who is in need of help.
Already Dickens has established that Magwitch is not all bad and that there is more to his story which must be revealed before making any final judgements which is proven when he meets Pip again who is no longer a poor boy living in the Marshes but a Gentleman through acquired expectations from a secret benefactor. Later on in the novel Magwitch seeks out Pip, who now lives in London and the shocking truth is exposed as Magwitch tells pip that he in fact is his secret benefactor (310-315).
Magwitch then explains himself saying that he was so moved by what Pip had done for him when he was a child that he felt that he had to repay him by doing everything in his power to make him a gentleman which was Pip’s lifelong dream. Magwitch also tells pip how he went to Australia where he worked in sheep ranching and earned a huge fortune in which he gave to him. Dickens completely turns Magwitch’s image around by showing that he is very loyal and generous, that he is not cold hearted like how a criminal would normally be viewed as.
His devotion to Pip’s success proves that Magwitch is not a bad person, it shows that he somewhat cares for Pip and the fact that he had a chance to become rich elevating his own status but instead chose to give all his fortune to Pip shows that he is very selfless. Charles Dickens gives Magwitch redeeming qualities to prove that the man behind the criminal is not bad but indeed good at heart.
If the fact that Magwitch was a criminal was removed Magwitch can be seen as a loyal, honest and hardworking Person whose heart is filled with admiration towards a young man namely Pip and wishes to do nothing more but to see him become a gentleman all characteristics of a good person but, one question arises which has not been answered, since Magwitch can become so virtuous why is he even a criminal in the first place, this explanation of why Magwitch is a criminal further explains what dickens meant that there is an exception to the statement all criminals are bad people.
Magwitch explains to Pip the reason behind his hatred for his former accomplice Compeyson and basically how he became a criminal. In this he tells Pip the story of how he met Compeyson and the story of Arthur and Compeyson. Magwitch’s background story is that of poverty, he was an orphan just as Pip was and he had to steal as a means of surviving. Magwitch’s story gives readers and understanding of why he got into the life of crime and although stealing cannot be excused as a crime, Dickens represents Magwitch’s case as a justifiable reason for being who he is in terms of being a criminal.
Magwitch was not given the same opportunities as his partner Compeyson and so basically grew up into a life of crime, with him being an orphan he had no other means of living, he had to fend for himself, but although he was already at this great disadvantage he also tells Pip that he tried to work sometimes but it wasn’t enough which unfortunately turned him into a criminal when he met Compeyson: “I’ve no notion where I was born…tramping, begging, thieving…gone last night” (Pg. 342-343).
This suggests that maybe if Magwitch was given a better chance to be successful in life like Compeyson was that he would not be a criminal ultimately supporting that it was out of his hands and that he had no other choice, His motives unlike Compeyson, was purely to survive. It is evident in the novel that Charles Dickens has a soft spot for Magwitch through his history with Compeyson in which he got a heavier sentence just because he looked more of a criminal than Compeyson. Dickens does this to show sympathy for Magwitch but also a satire towards the justice system.
Magwitch’s relationship with Pip grows towards the end of the novel as Pip realises that Magwitch sincerely cares for him and that he has not been very accepting of him. Dickens uses Pip’s realization to bring across the point that Magwitch is indeed a good person and that him being a criminal does not define who he is, even a person such as Pip who looked down on Magwitch as being low and nothing more than a criminal even being ashamed when he found out that he was his secret benefactor has been enlightened and now accepts him.
Charles Dickens contrast of both characters was his major evidence in proving what he believed, both characters were similar in the sense that they were both criminals but their personalities were completely different, showing that being a criminal has nothing to do with him being good or bad but rather his reason for committing crimes is what actually determines whether he can be judged as a bad person or not. Charles Dickens in proving this also suggested that anyone can become a criminal from Magwitch’s life story and to further prove this the man Character in the novel Pip is surrounded by a life of crime.
As a small boy Pip has his first encounter with crime through Magwitch and it is evidently seen that the Marshes has some tainted atmosphere filled with crime through Convicts always breaking out, the hulks (prisoner ship) sailing by and cannons firing to alert residence of a breakout, so it can therefore be said that Pip’s life even before meeting Magwitch had some element of crime in it. When Pip receives his great expectations and moves to London to meet Jaggers (criminal lawyer), he finds out that Jaggers office is beside New gate prison and realises that crime has always been present in his life.
Dickens incorporates this element of crime in this new setting not only to relate his experience with the Debtors prison in his own life and foreshadow future encounters with crime but I believe it can be connected to Magwitch in the sense that Magwitch lived in poverty something that he could not control meaning he did not choose to be poor which drove him to become a criminal and Pip now is surrounded by all this crime, he could be easily be influenced in the future to become a riminal also and although one might say that you decide your own future and if you turn out to become a criminal it is your own fault but Dickens gives evidence through Magwitch’s story that sometimes our future can be influenced by factors surrounding us that we have no power over. Pip’s involvement in crime worsens when Magwitch told him that he was his benefactor, he is torn apart with guilt and shame but is further concerned by the fact that Magwitch has yet again escaped from prison and needs Pip’s help to prevent him from being caught.
By law anyone who assists a criminal is also considered a criminal by association, Pip knows this but feels guilty that Magwitch who although at this point he was still ashamed of had done so much for him and so he felt obliged to returned the favour. Here it is proven that Pip has been influenced to become a criminal and has no power over this situation, Pip eventually decides to help Magwitch knowing that he could also be sent to jail. Dickens shows that even though Pip wants commit a crime it is for a justifiable reason just as Magwitch did stealing turnips to eat as a child.
Pip receives help from Wemmick (Jagger’s clerk) and Herbert (Matthew Pocket’s son) with hiding Magwitch from the police and planning to smuggle him out of London. They also could be considered as criminals by helping Pip but their motives for helping Pip is purely good, Pip is their friend who they care for and so they would do anything to help him by doing this Dickens has proven that anyone can become a criminal under the circumstance meaning even good people can become criminals for good reasons.
In the world today there are many different types of people, when we say that all criminals are bad it is not true which dickens himself believed, an example of what he meant by an exception is in the case of an 80 year old woman who has nothing left, no one to take care of her, if she has no other means of surviving but to steal does that make her a bad person? What about the man whose father is dying of an illness and he needs money for the operation but he lives in poverty so he robs a bank to pay for the operation, is he also bad for wanting to save his father’s life?
Although there is no excuse for committing a crime just as Magwitch realized that the life he lived was inexcusable (), it does not mean that he should be labelled as being a bad person. Therefore with all the evidence that has been given it can be concluded that if people who commit crimes based on good intentions are considered criminals not all criminals are bad, but the question now becomes , who decides which intentions are good?.