How do the three minor characters, Uncle Pumblechook, Compeyson and Bentley Drummle, help to develop the plot and themes in Great Expectations?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Great Expectations, the characters of Uncle Pumblechook, Bentley Drummle, and Compeyson each serve to advance the plot and develop themes, but in different ways.

  • Uncle Pumblechook and the Rising Middle Class of England

His humorous name is an indication of the role that this character plays. Charles Dickens uses Uncle Pumblechook, who is obsessed with what he perceives as the power of money. When Pip receives notice from Mr. Jaggers that he has "Great Expectations," Pumblechook congratulates him and wishes him "the joy of money." 
Pumblechook is a stereotypical character who represents the rising middle class after the Industrial Revolution. By accumulating money, people like Pumblechook hope to ascend in social class and power. However, as Pip describes him, Pumblechook is "the basest of swindlers" because, unlike Joe, who has a strong sense of the virtue of industry," Pumblechook seeks only monetary gain and the shallow elevation of his social position simply because of money. Charles Dickens uses him to ridicule those in the new middle class who fawn on a trivial and decadent aristocracy that they perceive as superior. 

  • Bentley Drummle as a Member of the Trifling, Decaying Upper Class

Drummle is a relatively insignificant character who also represents a stereotype: He is the upper class boor. This ill-mannered and brutish man has no redeeming qualities, but because he has been born into the upper class, he is given position in society. 
Mr. Jaggers who views humanity in general as rather vile, takes an interest in Bentley Drummle. In fact, he toasts the young brute at his dinner, viewing him as a sort of Darwinian specimen, whom he follows with "strange interest." 

Drummle is a character that Dickens employs to ridicule what he perceives as a trifling aristocracy. And, for whatever reason, Miss Havisham allows Estella to marry this brute, who later treats her very cruelly, reversing Miss Havisham's plan of Estella avenging herself against males.

  • Compeyson and the Justice of the Wealthy vs. that of the Poor

One of the themes in Great Expectations is Dickens's view of Society as a Prison. In other words, if one were of the lower classes, he was doomed to a life of condemnation and servitude; opportunity was closed to him. The wealthy, on the other hand, were privileged and often were excused for wrongful actions they committed. In Chapter XLII (42), Magwitch relates his sad history to Pip, telling him of his poverty and life as a gamin in the streets of London. As a young man he went to a tavern near the horse races and met Compeyson, a gentleman of bad character who employed him as his partner:

“Compeyson's business was the swindling, handwriting forging, stolen bank-note passing, and such-like. 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....So I begun wi' Compeyson, and a poor tool I was in his hands....that man got me into such nets as made me his black slave. I was always in debt to him, always under his thumb, always a working, always a getting into danger.

When they both went to trial, Magwitch says that he noticed "what a gentleman Compeyson looked...." and when the evidence was given, it was Magwitch who performed the deeds and taken the money, and so forth. At the end the counselor for Compeyson pointed to how well Compeyson was "brought up" while he, Magwitch, was "ill brought up." At the end of the trial, the sentencing was much lighter for Compeyson, the "gentleman" than for the poor, wretched Magwitch.

It was also Compeyson who professed to be Miss Havisham's lover as he and Arthur, her brother, stole her money. Clearly, Compeyson is a much more wicked man than poor Magwitch, yet Magwitch served a longer prison sentence than the gentleman. For this reason, Magwitch has always wanted to avenge himself upon Compeyson. However, the evil "gentleman" commits yet another wrong against the man he has exploited and causes Magwitch's death when Pip and Herbert try to help him escape London.

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