In the 19th century the class divisions were very strict. This meant that different people were divided into different social classes. At the top of this ladder were the rich people who enjoyed comfortable lives and didn’t have to work to live. These people didn’t care too much for anyone than their own class. Of course, there were some people at the top of the ladder who weren’t like this, like Jaggers the lawyer, who helped the poor people.
When Pip first met Magwitch, Magwitch had just escaped from the hulks. Pip describes him as “Soaked in water and smothered in mud and cut by flints and stung by nettles and torn by briars … He limped and shivered and glared and growled” Magwitch’s first words to Pip were “Keep still, or I’ll cut your throat!” This must have mad Pip very scared of him. Pip reacted by being very polite and doing what he was told, probably in fear of what Magwitch might do to him if he didn’t. But the reader is also made to feel slightly sorry for him, as it appears that he is extremely hungry, as he ate Pip’s bread “ravenously”.
Magwitch tells pip that a ‘young man’ accompanies him and that this young man can “get at a boy, and at his heart, and at his liver”. Magwitch appears to be lying at this part just to scare Pip into getting him the food.
Later on, when Magwitch found out about Compeyson, he became very violent and said, “I’ll pull him down, like a bloodhound.”
When Magwitch is recaptured on the marshes he was “Struggling at the bottom of a ditch.” He said to the guards “I’d have held him with that grip that you should have been safe to find him in my hold.” This shows that Magwitch has a lot of hate for Compeyson. From this, we learn that Magwitch is a desperate, violent man.
When recaptured, Magwitch said that he had stole he food and whittles etc to get Pip out of trouble. This changes our view on Magwitch considerably, from a violent, desperate man to a kind, considerate, perhaps caring man. When Magwitch was taken to Australia he sent all of his earned money to Pip, who was still in England. When Magwitch escapes to England, he tells Pip that he is actually his secret benefactor and when Pip realizes whom this old man is, he faints. This shows that Pip has changed a lot from when Magwitch first met him.
It is quite ironic when Magwitch says to Pip “I’ve made a gentleman of you!” because, we know that Pip isn’t much of a gentleman, but actually that he is ungrateful, inconsiderate and quite selfish. Pip thinks that he would rather be someone with no money rather than a person with a ‘criminal’s’ money. Magwitch tells Pip that he had “…lived rough, that you should live smooth, I worked hard, that you be above work.” This brings out a completely different character of Magwitch that we wouldn’t have expected. It shows that he cares for Pip and that he was very grateful for what Pip did for him a few years ago.
When Magwitch was younger, he stole turnips for a living. This shows that he is a criminal in that he stole, but also a victim of society, as he had to steal his food because he had no money. When he did work for Compeyson he was “Swindling, handwriting, forging, stolen bank-note passing, and such like.” Magwitch and Compeyson were “both committed for felony, on a charge of putting stolen notes in circulation” They were found out and sent to the hulks. Each time Magwitch broke the law, he knew it was a crime, making him a criminal. But, in most cases, he had to steel and thief to survive.
Magwitch had a bad start in life and was very poor which explains why he had to steal in order to survive. In this case he is a victim of society because he had no other options than to steal in order to survive. But even before he had committed a crime, he was labeled as a criminal because of his situation and appearance. People said things about him such as “this is a terrible hardened one.” and also “may be said to live in jails, this boy.”
We discover that Magwitch had a wife and child but he lost them because he had to go into prison. Jaggers cared for the poor and he ensured that Magwitch’s daughter was brought up well and that his wife had a job. This shows that society did not care for the poor.
When he was in court, he said “I was so miserably poor, that I sold all the clothes I had, except what hung on my back.” Compeyson wore “black clothes and white pocket handkerchief.” Just from looking at him, one of the people in court said “criminal” and another said “gentleman”. The lawyers on Compeyson’s side were always reminding the jury that Magwitch was scruffy and untidy.
At the end of the court case they were both tried for the same crime, but because that Compeyson had a good upbringing and he looked tidy etc, he was given half the sentence that Magwitch received. When Magwitch sums up his life he says “in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail.” This clearly shows that he is a criminal, but in all cases he has committed a crime to survive. Magwitch did not have a proper upbringing or an education so he did not have many choices but to steal in order to survive.
But, we must remember the good that he did, like live a hard life so that Pip could live an easy, comfortable one. He died in the prison hospital from fever, which was slightly expected, because of his unfortunate upbringing. He was a caring, sensitive man who was very grateful towards Pip for the favours that he did him in his younger years, but even then, Pip was not grateful.