What does Dickens convey through Pip about the police?In chapter 16 of Great Expectations, What does Dickens convey through Pip about the criminal justice system?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A strong advocate for social reforms, Charles Dickens often makes social critiques in his novel Great Expectations.  Through his development of characters such as the unscrupulous Mr. Jaggers and the fated Magwitch, for instance, Dickens comments upon the system of crime and punishment in his Victorian Age.  In addition to his character development, Dickens also employs broad farce as comic relief and as a means of critiquing the criminal justice system.

A good example of this farce of Charles Dickens is found in Chapter XVI as the police investigate the attack upon Mrs. Joe Gargery.  Pip narrates, 

They took up several obviously wrong people, and they ran their heads very hard against wrong ideas, and persisted in trying to fit the circumstances to the ideas, instead of trying to extract ideas from the circumstances. Also, they stood about the door of the Jolly Bargemen, with knowing and reserved looks that filled the whole neighbourhood with admiration; and they had a mysterious manner of taking their drink, that was almost as good as taking the culprit. But not quite, for they never did it.

In other words, the police are much like the Keystone Cops of the silent movies:  bumbling idiots.  They operate very incompetently, trying to make the circumstances fit their unfounded concept of what has occurred rather than look for clues to what has actually happened.  Instead of doing the detective work that they should, the men stand around The Jolly Bargemen, drinking surreptiously.  In fact, it is only drink that they can take, not the culprit of the crime about who they are baffled, Dickens satirically writes.  In the end, the police simply leave.  With no arrests made, no leads as to who has committed the crime, the police have helped no one, served no purpose.

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Great Expectations

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