What is surprising about the attitude of the two convicts (Magwitch and Compeyson) towards one another in Great Expectations?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two convicts hate each other, and they fight since one convict will not let the other escape. The one shouts, "Murder!" and the other calls out, "Guard! This way for the runaway convicts!" Surprisingly, the other convict calls to the soldiers.

After the soldiers disrupt the Christmas dinner at the Gargerys' cottage because they need the services of a blacksmith, Joe and Pip follow them in their search for the two escaped convicts. Suddenly, they hear a loud shout from the convicts, who are struggling with each other. The soldiers "run like deer" toward the sound. "Here are both men!" pants the sergeant. They are struggling at the bottom of a ditch. The soldier orders them, "Surrender you two! And confound you for two wild beasts! Come asunder!" (Ch.4)

The convicts are bleeding and panting with exhaustion. As he shakes hair from his fingers and wipes the blood from his face, Pip's convict tells the soldiers, "I took him! I give him up to you! Mind that!" But the soldier tells him that his holding the other will do him little good since he is "in the same plight." Pip's convict replies that he does not expect his actions to help him. "I don't want it to do me more good than it does now. I took him. He knows it. That's enough for me."(Ch.4) Then the soldiers handcuff the two convicts. The other convict can barely speak. "Take notice, guard—he tried to murder me," he manages to utter. (Ch.4)

The first convict, who informs the guards that the other man is a gentleman, insists that he could have murdered this man if he had wanted. "Murder him? When I could do worse and drag him back?" (Ch.4) Further, he explains that he could have escaped, but he did not when he learned that the other man was out on the marshes, too. "Let him make a tool of me afresh and again? . . . No, no, no." He says that even if he died in the ditch, he would have held on to the other man." The two convicts exchange more insults. It then becomes apparent that the better-spoken convict is terrified of Pip's convict.

The mystery surrounding this hatred is clarified later in Great Expectations, in chapter 42. After Pip goes to London to become a gentleman, he rooms with Herbert Pocket, a relative of Miss Havisham. Herbert tells Pip the history of Miss Havisham's having been betrayed on her wedding day. A certain gentleman named Compeyson wooed Miss Havisham and "got great sums of money" from her. He also convinced her to buy her brother out of a share in the brewery for a large sum. Herbert's father warned Miss Havisham against this man, but she ordered Matthew Pocket out of her house, instead.

Pip's benefactor, Abel Magwitch, the convict from the marsh who, as a boy was only a street urchin in London, was exploited by Compeyson. Magwitch informs Pip that the man with whom he was fighting in the marsh is this same Compeyson, his enemy. Magwitch was a tool of this man "who got [him] into such nets as made [him] his slave" (Ch. 42). When they went to trial with charges of felony against them, Compeyson, dressed as a gentleman, had a separate defense and was given a seven-year sentence while the wretched-looking Magwitch was handed down fourteen. After their fight in the marsh, Compeyson's punishment again was light, but Magwitch received a life sentence. Magwitch tells Pip he "didn't stop for life" and escaped again.

Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the past, Magwitch and Compeyson had been partners in the thieving business. Compeyson had been planning to swindle Miss Havisham out of her money by marrying her and then leaving her (with her money). When they were both captured, they turned on each other, informing the police of the other’s criminal intentions. Though they had been imprisoned together on the prison ship, they let their hated of each other grow. When they escaped, instead of aiding each other, they fought in the ditch. This allowed the soldiers (accompanied by Joe and Pip) to come on them and re-arrest both of them. They kept this hatred going for years. When Magwitch returned to England as Provis, Compeyson tracked him down. It was he who informed the police of Magwitch’s return. Magwitch was arrested and imprisoned, where he died. Compeyson died as he and Magwitch fell off the ship. 

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Great Expectations

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