Why did Pip fear that Magwitch would not be treated leniently?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Continuing the theme of society as a prison, Charles Dickens's treatment of the character of Magwitch demonstrates repeatedly that social class is a superficial standard of value and the criminal justice system passes judgments upon people based upon this standard, dehumanizing and debasing certain people.  Among these people, as Pip is made aware, is Magwitch, who has been the victim of such a system.  During his visit to London when Pip is grown, Magwitch relates how he was exploited by the gentleman Compeyson and dragged into the plan to deceive Miss Havisham in order to rid her of  money; Magwitch also tells Pip how he was sentenced much more severely than was the instigator Compeyson, who appeared to be a gentleman. 

Because of the old convict's past history, Pip is extremely anxious about Magwitch's safety while he, as Provis, is in London.  Knowing the past treatment of Magwitch by the judicial system, Pip feels that if Magwitch is caught after having been told he will be hanged if found in England, Pip is most anxious for his benefactor. When Pip's and Herbert's efforts to get Magwitch out of England fail, Pip knows that Magwitch is truly doomed, either because of his physical injuries, or because of his past criminal record.

Yet, as Pip tends the old man, he narrates that

my repugnance to him had all metled away, and in the hunted, wounded, shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefull, and generously toward me with great constancy through a series of years.  I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.

In gratitude for all that Magwitch has done, Pip tells the man he will never stir from his side; Magwitch, being loved, is very moved.

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