What methods does Magwitch use to help Pip develop into a gentleman?Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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After Pip's charity to the "man in coarse gray," Magwitch, who has been a mere product of the streets of London, never forgets the human kindness of little Pip who has felt pity for the man who shivered on the marshes, wearing a heavy leg iron.  So, after he is sent to New South Wales, Magwitch, who is alone in the world, saves his wages and sends Pip money.  When good fortune finally touches him with the death of the man for whom he has worked, the old convict then amasses a small fortune which he bestows upon Pip.

But, it is through his inadvertent acts that Magwitch truly teaches Pip to become a gentleman in the Victorian sense of the word.  That is, Pip matures and becomes a man, gentle and sympathetic to others.  In much the same way that he reacted in the graveyard as a child, Pip is initially repulsed by the appearance of the old convict.  When Magwitch takes his hands, puts them to his lips, and tells Pip that he, in fact, is the young man's benefactor, Pip is dismayed and sickened:

The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank from him, could not have exceeded if he had been some terrible beast.

However, once Pip realizes the cruel past of Magwitch, his sympathies are aroused, again much as they were in the graveyard so many years prior to this meeting:

He regarded me with a look of affection that mede him almost abhorrent to me again, though I had felt great pity for him.

In further sympathy for Magwitch, Pip worries that Compeyson should discover his return to London; therefore, he solicits the aid of Herbert in getting the old convict out of London.  Unfortunately, their attempt to get him out via the river fails and the hapless Magwitch is badly injured in a terrible struggle overboard and underwater with the heinous Compeyson.  Pip takes his place by Magwitch's side as he is put on board and reflects, "I felt that that was my place henceforth while he lived."  With great compassion, Pip tells Magwitch,

"I will never stir from your side....Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!" 

This, then, is Pip's true initiation into the state of being a gentleman.  From Magwitch, then, Pip has learned to appreciate the love of another human being; he has learned compassion, and he has learned that the bounty of a heart can be in the poorest and most wretched of men.  Again Pip learns the difference between appearances and reality; Magwitch has taught him this valuable lesson that no clothes or money can ever demonstrate.

 

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