Great Expectations Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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In Great Expectations, how does Compeyson compare with Abel Magwitch?   I need citations from Great Expectations

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Charles Dickens employs the two characters of Compeyson and Abel Magwitch to illustrate his motif of society as a type of prison itself.  For Magwitch, a child of the streets, is from childhood condemned as he had to steal--"tramping, begging, thieving--and do whatever he could to survive.  He tells Pip in Chapter 42 that he one day met Compeyson at Epsom Races, wearing "a watch and a chain and a ring and a breast pin and a handsome suit of clothes"--apparently, a gentleman.  But, Compeyson tells him he is not one; instead, he asks what Magwitch can do, and he takes Magwitch on as "his man and pardner [sic]."

Here in this chapter, the suggestion of Cain and Abel cannot be missed with these two characters as poor Magwitch is used by Compeyson:

"All sorts of traps as Compeyson could set with his head, and let another man in for, was Compeyson's business.  He'd not more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil....."

"I might a-took warning by...

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In Ch.42, when Magwitch tells us his life story he narrates how he became an accomplice of the smooth talking, charming and stylish villain Compeyson:


"At Epsom races, a matter of over twenty years 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."

Abel Magwitch is an orphan who in order to keep himself from starving took to a life of crime from his boyhood days:

"Tramping, begging, thieving, working sometimes when I could - though that warn't as often as you may think, till you put the question whether you would ha' been over-ready to give me work yourselves - 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."

Compeyson on the contrary was a well to do gentleman who had had a good public school education but who chose a life of crime voluntarily:

And what was Compeyson's business in which we was to go pardners? 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. 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.

The irony being of course for every crime that Compeyson planned and executed using Magwitch as his accomplice, it was always Magwitch who was arrested by the police. Once, however, both of them were arrested and had to stand trial. However, the magistrate looking at the polished, elegant exterior of Compeyson gave him a lighter sentence remarking that it was Magwitch who had been a bad influence on Compeyson and had transformed him into a hardened criminal:

And when the verdict come, warn't it Compeyson as was recommended to mercy on account of good character and bad company, and giving up all the information he could agen me, and warn't it me as got never a word but Guilty? And when I says to Compeyson, 'Once out of this court, I'll smash that face of yourn!' ain't it Compeyson as prays the Judge to be protected, and gets two turnkeys stood betwixt us? And when we're sentenced, ain't it him as gets seven year, and me fourteen, and ain't it him as the Judge is sorry for, because he might a done so well, and ain't it me as the Judge perceives to be a old offender of wiolent passion, likely to come to worse?"

Through the character of Compeyson Dickens satirizes the unfair penal laws of his time and reveals how social circumstances convert poor orphans into hardened criminals.

Through the character of Compeyson Dickens pours his contempt on 'gentlemen' by stating that 'gentleman' is a synonym for 'liar' and 'villain,'

He's a gentleman, if you please, this villain.

"He's a liar born, and he'll die a liar.  [Ch.5]