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What are the main characteristics of Abel Magwitch?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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yingsu | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 3, 2010 at 3:12 AM via web

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What are the main characteristics of Abel Magwitch?

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 3, 2010 at 3:41 AM (Answer #1)

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The reader's introduction to Abel Magwitch finds him

a fearful man, all in coarse gray with a great iron on his leg...who limped and shivered, and glared and growled, and whose teeth chattered in his head as he seized [Pip]by the chin.

For little Pip, he seems a terrifying man who threatens to eat his liver and heart if he does not bring "wittles" and a file.  However, after he is captured, Magwitch confesses to the stealth of the food and apologizes to Joe: "Then I'm sorry to say I've eat your pie." Thus, there is an indication in the convict that his basic nature is not mean.

Like his nomenclature, Abel Magwitch is victimized in his youth.  When he visits Pip as "Provis" in Stage II of the novel, he reveals his history as a gamin of the streets of London in which he stole to live and eat.

"Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could--though that warn't as often as you may think...a bit of a poacher, a bit of a laborer, a bit of a wagoner...and lead to trouble, I got to be a man."

Magwitch/Provis met with Compeyson, the second convict, who exploited him:

"All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head, and let another man in for, was Compeson's business...."

Compeyson was involved in the plot of Miss Havisham's fiance, Arthur.  After they are charged with a felony, Compeyson appeared in court as a gentleman and poor Magwitch was in his rags. When Compeyson received a lighter sentence, Magwitch vowed to smash his face.

As Provis relates his past, he looks fondly upon Pip, proud that he is his benefactor and has helped a poor boy, an orphan like himself, have a better way in life than he.  In a way, he feels redeemed from his life of misery.  However, Pip feels that Magwitch "is abhorrent" although he does pity him.  Finally, after Pip tries to help Magwitch escape London and the old convict is injured and lies suffering, Pip grows to love Magwitch for he realizes that he has a good heart.  Performing his duty to Magwitch, Pip tends the man in his final hour, consoling him with the revelation that Magwitch's daughter yet lives and is beautiful, a woman whom he loves.  Magwitch raises Pip's hand to his lips and kisses it before he dies.

The character of Abel Magwitch represents the poor of London who are victimized by their social misfortune.  Locked in the prison that Dickens felt was the English society, Magwitch has no chance to better himself and turns to crime to survive.  Then, he is unjustly punished; because he is poor he is condemned to a miserable life. 

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