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Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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Discussion Topic

Magwitch and Compeyson's sentences and the reasons for their differing lengths in Great Expectations


In Great Expectations, Magwitch received a harsher sentence than Compeyson due to his lower social status and criminal background. Compeyson, being a gentleman with a more refined appearance, was able to manipulate the court's perception, resulting in a lighter sentence. This disparity highlights the class biases within the judicial system of the time.

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What were the sentences of Magwitch and Compeyson in Great Expectations?

In the Charles Dickens’ novel, “Great Expectations,” Magwitch is a convict who frightens the young boy, Pip, into providing him with food after he escapes the hulks (prison ship). Later, when Magwitch visits Pip in London in order to reveal the fact that he is Pip’s secret benefactor, he begins to relate the story which explains how he came to be imprisoned for crimes. According to Magwitch, he was born under desperate circumstances and his adult life demonstrated no improvement in the circumstances of his birth. Therefore, when Compeyson, a skilled and heartless villain draws him into an elaborate plot to defraud people of their money, Magwitch complies. Once they have been accused and scheduled to stand trial, Compeyson communicates to Magwitch that he wishes to have ‘Separate defences, no communication,’ Without the benefit of a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer and the misleading appearance of Compeyson, Magwitch is sentenced to fourteen years in prison, while Compeyson is only sentenced to seven years.

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Why did Compeyson receive a lesser sentence than Magwitch in Great Expectations, according to Magwitch?

This is the typical problem with our court systems. Magwitch's basic assertion here is that the judges are discriminatory or that they apply sentences unjustly. Aren't the courts supposed to be just? Aren't the courts supposed to be the one place in a society in which all people are treated equally.

Magwitch would also assert that his involvement in their crimes was to a lesser extent than that of Compeyson.

Compeyson was having a pity on nothing and nobody.

So I begun wi' Compeyson, and a poor tool I was in his hands.

Magwitch here notes that Compeyson doesn't care about anyone but himself and is willing to sell out a friend or partner. Magwitch calling himself a "poor tool" demonstrates his understanding of his place with Compeyson.

Compeyson also insisted that they didn't communicate during their trials and that they received separate defenses.

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Why did Compeyson receive a lesser sentence than Magwitch in Great Expectations, according to Magwitch?

You can find the answer to this in Chapter 42.

Compeyson and Magwitch had been accomplices in crime.  When they were caught and put on trial, though, Compeyson arranged to have a separate lawyer and a separate defense.

The reason for this is that he was going to blame all the crimes on Magwitch. So Compeyson gets a lighter sentence because he blames it all on Magwitch.  His lawyer points out that Compeyson is younger and from a better family than Magwitch.  He says this shows that Magwitch is the one who is really at fault and Compeyson just got in with the wrong crowd and shouldn't be punished as harshly.

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