In what ways does Great Expectations show how 'reformatory' the penal system of the nineteenth century was? Any help much appreciated, thanks.

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pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In England, before the penal colony in Australia was established, the criminal justice system was swift, cruel and unforgiving of petty crime.  Death sentences were handed out for small crimes as well as murder, or piracy or treason.  After the penal colony was set up, the crimes of stealing a cow or robbing a loaf of bread were dealt with by sending the guilty to the penal colony. Also, the penal colony was used as a way to reduce the crowding in London jails.  In this period in English history, poverty raged. Dickens takes inspiration from real life.  The very rich were insulated from the harsh realities of life, but a good deal of the population was poor. And if you were poor, life was miserable.

Magwitch, the convict who helps Pip become a gentleman is an example of how we can draw a wrong conclusion. Pip is shocked that Magwitch, the convict is his benefactor. Clearly, Magwitch makes a fortune in Australia, which was in fact true of the period which became known for its sheep and cattle ranches and the wool trade. Magwitch is the criminal with the heart of gold, who saves Pip from a life of hardship.  

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Great Expectations

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