Great Expectations | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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Great Expectations | Chapters 41–42 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 41

Magwitch explains everything to an astounded Herbert. Pip takes Magwitch to his apartment and then returns to his own residence. There Pip talks to Herbert about what is to be done. Distraught about his situation, Pip states that he cannot take any more money from Magwitch and also wants to disengage himself from the former convict. However, if he does separate himself from Magwitch, Pip fears the former convict will do something rash and get arrested for returning to England. Because of what Magwitch has done for him, Pip does not want him to go back to prison. Herbert suggests that Pip take Magwitch out of the country and then figure out the best way to break from him. Pip agrees.

Chapter 42

Magwitch tells Pip and Herbert the story of his life. He grew up in poor circumstances, never knowing who his parents were. Many people treated young Magwitch as an outcast, and he ended up in and out of jail. As an adult Magwitch took whatever work he could find—some of it was legal, some wasn't. Then a swindler named Compeyson asked Magwitch to become a partner in crime. In need of food Magwitch agreed. A good-looking man, Compeyson had received a decent education and dressed like a gentleman. Compeyson and a friend named Arthur had once made a pile of money by swindling a rich lady.

Compeyson lived a life of crime, assisted by Magwitch. Eventually they were arrested. However, the jury became biased against Magwitch because he looked and expressed himself like a rough, lower-class man while Compeyson looked and expressed himself like a gentleman. Because Compeyson denied any direct connection with the crime, the jury sentenced Magwitch to 14 years and Compeyson to 7 years. Outraged, Magwitch swore vengeance on Compeyson. On the prison ship Magwitch managed to escape onto the marshes, where he met Pip. However, when Magwitch learned that Compeyson had also escaped, he tracked down Compeyson to prevent him from going free. At the end of Magwitch's talk, Herbert writes a note to Pip, stating, "Young Havisham's name was Arthur. Compeyson is the man who professed to be Miss Havisham's lover." Pip nods.

Analysis

The theme of uncertainty and deceit permeates Chapter 41. Pip and Herbert are uncertain how to deal with Magwitch. Eventually they come up with a plan that involves Pip disguising Magwitch and sneaking him out of the country. Also Pip and Herbert are uncertain about Magwitch's history. In a broader context Pip's entire life has been thrown into uncertainty. He thought he had his life figured out. Miss Havisham is his benefactress, and she wants him to marry Estella. However, with the arrival of Magwitch, Pip's life becomes more unsettled and confusing.

In Chapter 42 Dickens emphasizes the theme of social class. The author depicts the hard life of an orphan who grows up in poverty. Being put in jail became a way of life for Magwitch at an early age. For Dickens, Magwitch becoming a criminal is a direct result of being a deprived child growing up in a lower-class environment. Middle-class people viewed young Magwitch as an outcast to be driven off or arrested. Later as an adult, Magwitch joins Compeyson out of necessity. Magwitch is desperate for food, and Compeyson offers a way to get money.

The relationship between the lower class and crime continues with Magwitch's trial. Because Magwitch is from the lower class, he is viewed as a criminal, comes to accept life as a criminal, and is given a harsh sentence, thereby confirming him as a criminal. Magwitch becomes caught within a vicious cycle. The only way he sees of getting out is through Pip.

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