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Examine how Dickens uses the characters Pip and Magwitch to explore themes, attitudes and ideas in great expectations

Dickens wrote “Great Expectations” to display just how unfair the criminal justice system and the class system of his day were. He successfully achieves this by telling the story of two characters caught up in these harsh systems; Pip and Magwitch.

Pip is the main character and the book follows him from a small child. This is to get an insight into his life and to help the audience understand and relate with him and his feelings throughout the book. Dickens emphasises this even more by writing in the first person thus giving the audience a more accurate account of Pip’s feelings and creating a more personal relationship between reader and character.

Magwitch is also mostly portrayed in a good light as – although being a criminal – the audience is shown he is a good person at heart by certain actions he takes and his gestures and movements towards Pip.

These two characters are very similar as Dickens depicts them both as kind people with good intentions.

This image though is purposefully distorted as Dickens takes the readers and the characters on a journey into the snobby, overpowering world of the upper class and the brutal, unjust criminal justice system. Dickens then uses his characters to shock the reader as he shows what ordinary human being can become in the unforgiving time he lived in.

In the first extract Dickens gets the reader to understand how lonely and vulnerable Pip is as a small boy. It shows what a sheltered lifestyle he must have lead and how much he fears things he does not know or understand.

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First Dickens talks of a churchyard, immediately the reader is given a dark, deserted image that is associated with churchyards. To take this image one step further Dickens describes the churchyard as being a “a bleak place overgrown with nettles”. The typical horror story description of a dark and gloomy place. He then goes to talk about the graves there and the names of the people on them. Five children, a mother and a father are then listed and the reader is given the assumption that these people are Pip’s family.

The audience is to feel sorry for this poor vulnerable little boy in a deserted churchyard, his family dead. Also learning a bit about the past experiences of the character gets the audience to understand him better. Dickens uses certain phrases as he is explaining the graves and what this boy is learning about them to show the audience how sad and overwhelmed Pip must be. This is done by the calmness in which Pip explains his family as “dead and buried”, simply reeling off the list. Not much concern or emotion, almost as if they were strangers to him.

Throughout the whole of the long first sentence Dickens writes about Pips surroundings and the view Pip has on them. He writes these things to show Pip’s innocence of the world around him and to emphasise how defenceless and exposed Pip is against this seemingly humongous world surrounding him. One of the first things Dickens writes is “I found out that”, meaning that this is the first time Pip has been to these this scene. The story then proceeds to tell the audience, layer by layer, of Pip’s surroundings. Revealing this vast scene in sections instead of all at once is done to give make it all seem even more overwhelming and huge to the audience and therefore to Pip. As each section unfolds “and that” is used again to assert the scenes build up and scale.

The descriptions in themselves of the surroundings are also posed to be threatening. A “distant savage lair” and a “dark, flat wilderness”. These phrases however are used to describe things that are probably not as threatening as they appear to Pip, the “distant savage lair” was in fact the sea and the “dark flat wilderness” being marshes with cattle feeding on them. From this, again, Pip is portrayed as being perhaps over sensitive to it all.

The sentence finishes all this by writing about Pip:

“…and that a small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Pip”

Dickens has placed this at the bottom of this enormous sentence with lots of very descriptive phrases raising above, once more overcrowding Pip.

The next paragraph brings in the second character of this story, Magwitch. His character shows a total contrast to the “buddle of shivers” Pip was described as. This man is introduced to be very scary and the paragraphs aim to create a sudden impact into the long sentence before it.

The main way Dickens achieves this effect is by the use of direct speech to introduce this character. This helps use to appreciate more how Pip must be feeling, reading exactly what he must be hearing. Also the use of punctuation in the speech, such as exclamation marks, easily explains to the audience how angry and aggressive Magwitch is.

His desperation can also be seen as he barks orders at Pip; feels the only way he can get something off him is to frighten him. It is hear the audience can see the first similarities between the two character as they see both feeling threatened by their surroundings.

The next paragraph then goes on to describe Mawitch and again, much like the first sentence, in list form. Yet another similarity.

From this the audience learn a great deal of who he is and where he is from as it says especially when “a great iron on his leg” is described. This proving him to be an escaped convict and with it the assumption he is not a nice person.

However as the passage continues and the audience get an insight into what he has been through they are made to feel sorry for Magwitch as they do Pip. It is learnt from his description that this man has been “soaked in water” “stung by nettles” and several other examples of a man that has been through a lot. With this Dickens is trying to reinforce that Magwitch actually has a kind heart and also that it seems the world is just against him. The way he talks about the mud and the nettles gives the feeling all these things are out to get poor Magwitch, as it seems to be out to get Pip too.

This first extract all in all shows the reader these two characters have both had a most unfair life and have had to find their own ways to deal with the circumstances they have encountered. Both nice people just stuck in a sad and aggravating life. Dickens has made these characters into what he believes is the average working class person, hard working with a good heart though the rest of the world is against their very survival.

In the second extract however we see Pip as an upper class citizen and we see how a nice boy can become something totally different given the chance. Dickens aims in this extract to put people against upper class citizens and their snobbery and see that Pip, and therefore others would be much better off, personality wise as working class people. He also show however his belief that it is not the upper class peoples fault they are the way they are it is just how people felt they needed to act to get what they thought of as a decent life as we see Pip, a kind person stuck in this trap.

The beginning of the extract shows Pip opening the door to what he believes could only be a mad man. This can be seen as Dickens explains Pips reaction to the stranger as a “stupid kind of amazement”. Dickens uses this description to depict the emotion felt towards the man. Pip knows; because he has been converted to thinking that way that people like that do not turn up of someone like his door step. It is a “stupid” kind of amazement because it was stupid of this man to be here. It is not just that it isn’t the “right” thing to do, it is an unheard of thing to be doing. On top of that this man is holding his hands out to Pip. This is not what a higher class Pip is use to dealing with and finds it amazingly stupid he could even consider coming here. This is so outrageous to Pip he is dumbstruck by the gesture so does not know quite how to react, he had not been treated in such a way he sees as such an offensive manor and he cannot contemplate how a man could be doing this, hence the “stupid kind of amazement”. He sees this man as being of a lower class and is outraged and dumbstruck by his gesture of “holding out both hands to me”.

The reader can see how Pip has changed from this small insecure but kind hearted boy to someone of a great arrogance. The opposite however is to be said of Magwitch, who, holding his hands out to this man and being clearly rejected still with the understanding of a working class citizen.

We then go back to the first person approach this time to show Pip’s clear view on Magwitch and his appearance at his doorstep. This is much the same as their first meeting in the first extract, the only difference being this time that the roles have been reversed. Pip asking very short abrupt questions such as:

“Do you wish to come in?”

Clearly this invitation comes with a struggle to Pip due to his absence of politeness and wish to say more to this bedraggled man. Judging him by how he looks not even beginning to try and see if he knows him.

However Magwitch is shown to be the one almost bowing down to Pip as he replies calling him “master”. This indicates that Magwitch, although he knows that Pip’s wealth is all courtesy of him, still feels himself to be lower than Pip. It shows him to be a kind and feels he still owes Pip something although he has already given him so much. This does a lot to portray him as being an amazingly kind person and helps to attract the reader to him and like him and his kind nature. It is showing him in the best possible light and Pip in the worst. This helps Dickens to show the audience the difference in character between the upper and lower / working class. It makes the reader dislike Pip more and more and grow to love Magwitch. It helps to emphasise what being welthy has done to Pip, as he used to be like that, and how much kinder working class people are. This theme is evident throughout the story.

After Dickens illustrates Magwitch’s character to be so kind and caring they see Pip’s bitter contrast, as he says:

“I asked him the question inhospitably enough”

This tells the reader Pip was doing everything he could, without loosing his proud, dignified persona to stop this strange man from entering his house. What is meant by “inhospitably enough” is that Pip figured he was rude enough so that the man would figure he was not wanted and turn round and leave. It shows the audience his distinct dislike for this man and how much he just wishes for him to be gone from his door. Dickens is again pushing the audience towards Magwitch’s kind nature and away from Pip. Throughout this paragraph, and the one following it also, Pip is shown to be coming increasingly agitated. His agitation is growing as Magwitch appears to become increasingly disrespectful towards him. Pip’s account of the events displays his anger:

“…for I resented the sort of bright and gratified recognition…”

“…he expected me to respond to it…”

“…asked him as civily as I could…”

“He looked about him with the strangest air…”

“…I saw nothing that in the least explained him.”

This shows Pip’s resentment is growing and along with it Magwitch is becoming more agitated with Pip. Pip is resenting the “recognition that still shone in his face.” And Magwitch is resenting Pip for not recognising him. They are annoying each other and the reader sees it from Pip’s point of view showing his negative attitude and becoming more and more annoyed at him for being like this towards an increasingly distressed Magwitch. The reader can also see what Magwitches actions are and understand his disappointment at such an arrogant man. The technique of showing this part of the scene from Pip’s point of view makes Magwitch seem more distant and helpless and Dickens has done this effectively so that the audience will again feel sorrier for him and dislike Pip more.

Pip’s uncaring tone is again explained through his dialog again saying:

“What do you mean?” said I, half expecting him to be mad.

Though it is not said directly the audience can see from the “half expecting him to be mad” comment that it was said in a distasteful and insensitive tone, somebody who an upper class person thinks to be mad is not to be talked to with dignity and politeness.

The last paragraph show Magwitch talking and the reader can see, through the use of direct speech, just how painful Pip’s actions have been to this man as he speaks of his disappointment and his journey there:

“it’s disappointing to a man…”

“arter having looked for’ard so distant and come so fur…”

This shows this has hit Magwitch hard as he had been thinking of this moment for so long and how he expected such a different reaction. Pip had broken his dreams he had worked so hard for and the audience can see this hurts him. As is evident throughout this extract Dickens is making the audience feel sorry for poor Magwitch and become increasingly angry with Pip’s obnoxiousness. This is then taken one step further as Magwitch continues to speak, without anguish or angry towards an ungrateful Pip but excusing his behaviour:

“…but your not to blame for that – neither on us is to blame…”

As a now well established as morally correct character on the audiences eyes they too will also now think of Pip in this way. Now venting their anger not towards Pip as such but towards the upper class society as a whole. This is the aim of this book and is why Dickens wrote it, this extract displays this very effectively.

The extract contrasts a snobby Pip against the nicest possible character to emphasise just how mean Pip has managed to become through his new found ideas of life, brought to him through his money.

Both men with a kind soul stretched to something they are not by the criminal justice system and the class system. Both of them with ideas and attitudes at certain points that would not resemble their own but are what they had become through almost no fault of their own.

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Examine how Dickens uses the characters Pip and Magwitch to explore themes, attitudes and ideas in great expectations. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/examine-dickens-uses-characters-pip-magwitch-explore-themes-attitudes-ideas-great-expectations-new-essay

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