How Does Magwitch compare with Compeyson in Great Expectations?I have to write an essay on this and I have to use specific examples from the novel to support my answers.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As a social reformer, Charles Dickens was very concerned with Victorian society as itself being a type of prison.  That is, one was condemned to one's social position in London's society. While pointing to the flaws in the social strata of Victorian England, Charles Dickens called less for a change in social class than he did in the education of his characters that wealth and social position are worthless unless someone is a good person. The case of Magwitch and Compeyson exemplifies the perspective of Dickens that society is a prison and that social class is meaningless without goodness.

In Chapter XLII, Magwitch relates to Pip the story of his life. He explains that he has always been poor, a gamin of the streets who survived by means of 

"[T]ramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could...a bit of a poacher, a bit of a laborer, a bit of a wagoner, a bit of a haymaker, a bit of a hawker, a bit of most things that don't pay and lead to trouble."

Further, he tells Pip how, after being in and out of jail, he met Compeyson, a gentleman in appearance who is well-educated, at Epsom race track. Compeyson fed him and gave him money, so Matwitch went to work for him,

"He was a smooth one to talk and was a dab at the ways of gentlefolks.  He was good-looking, too."

Magwitch worked for Compeyson in swindling, forgery, passing stolen bank notes, and such. Compeyson, Magwitch observes, was "as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil." Too clever for Magwitch, Compeyson used him for all his underhanded dealings.

Eventually, Compeyson and Magwitch were arrested for the crimes they had committed. When they were charged with the felony of passing stolen notes, Compeyson told Magwitch that they should have separate defences.  Then, when they went into court, Compeyson was dressed as a fine gentleman, clean-cut and proper; however, Magwitch appeared to be but "a common wretch."  Magwitch tells Pip that the prosecution slanted the culpability for the crime onto Magwitch when he was only following Compeyson's instructions. was always me that had come for'ard, and could be swore to, how it was always me that the money had been paid to, how it was always me that had seemed to work the thing and get the profit."

When the prosecutor tells the jurors to look at them and see "one well brought up, one ill brought up," Magwitch knew he was condemned for his poverty more than his crimes. The judge handed him a sentence of twice the length of the instigator of the crimes.

Magwitch is clearly a victim of the injustice of the Industrial Age that placed children in factories or the street where crime abounded as well as the corruption of the Victorian courts that had one justice for the wealthy/upper class and another justice for the poor.  While Magwitch tried to merely survive, Compeyson, a gentleman who gambled away his money, sought ways to extort from the wealthy.  For, he was the suitor of Miss Havisham who left her bereft at the altar, having forged a plan with her half-brother Arthur to take Miss Havisham's fortune.

Clearly, Magwitch is a sympathetic figure, a man who could have been good if he had not been so poor. When he is able to help Pip become a gentleman, Magwitch vicariously lives through Pip, hoping to vindicate his miserable life through the successes of Pip.  On the other hand, Compeyson simply is a blackguard, a man of no virtue or ethics; he is totally devoid of any redeeming qualities.


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