In Great Expectations, is Provis a likeable character?
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The question of whether or not Provis is likeable is not one that is so easily answered. Consider the following information:
Always the social commentator, Charles Dickens employs the characters of Magwitch/Provis to exemplify the socially debilitation that poverty creates, and the exploitation of man over man; with Compeyson, Dickens illustrates the social privileges of the aristocracy that extends even to the judicial realm. In other words, Dickens felt that society was a kind of prison since people were locked into a certain class and stereotyped in ways specific to this class.
Therefore, although Magwitch, aka Provis, is a criminal who has stolen and performed nefarious deeds, he is yet a victim of his social prison. Having lived as a gamin of the streets, he tells Pip that he was in and out of jail and always hungry and cold.
“Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could—...a bit of a poacher, a bit of a labourer, a bit of a waggoner, a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most things that don't pay and lead to trouble, I got to be a man.
“At Epsom races, a matter of over twenty year ago, I got acquainted wi' a man whose skull I'd crack wi' this poker, like the claw of a lobster, if I'd got it on this hob. His right name was Compeyson...
When he met Compeyson (the second convict), this man was a gentleman who exploited Magwitch, using him to perform the "dirty" end of his crimes. Provis tells Pip,
All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head, and keep his own legs out of and get the profits from and let another man in for, was Compeyson's business. He'd no more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil afore mentioned.
When Magwitch and Compeyson were tried for their crimes, Compeyson, who had a good barrister to defend him and was cleanly dressed as a gentleman, is handed a lesser sentence than poor, defenseless Magwitch, who was dirty and ragged. This sentencing proved that there is a justice for the rich and a different one for the poor.
When Pip is confronted with Provis in Chapter XL, he is repulsed by the presence of the convict, and horrified to learn that Provis, not Miss Havisham, has financed his education and training as a gentleman. But, after the failed attempt at sneaking the condemned man out of London, Pip's better nature comes through and he pities the poor man whose heart is loving toward him. Solicitously, then, Pip tends Provis and prays that God will have mercy on such a pitiable wretch as he.
While readers, too, are somewhat repulsed by the convict and, later, as Provis, they do not find him likeable at all in his crudeness, they still must admire the integrity and love that this wretched man possesses. For, simply because Pip has been kind to him, after Magwitch is apprehended by the soldiers, he confesses that he has eaten Joe Gargery's food and apologizes. Remembering all his life the small kindness of Pip, Magwitch finally has some good fortune in his life and shares his earnings with Pip by providing him the opportunity to become a gentleman. As he lies dying, Provis raises his lips to Pip's hands and kisses them. Still holding Pip's hand, he "gently let it sink upon his breast, lets his hand remain upon Pip's and dies. In this poignant moment, surely, readers must be moved.
Is Provis likeable? Maybe not, but he is pitiable. And, he is certainly to be respected for his decency and for his love and devotion to Pip.
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