The Theme of Crime in Great Expectations Essay Example


Throughout Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations, the readers are able to experience many different class systems, criminal activity, and dynamic personalities as the mysterious plot unfolds. Crime in the 1860s, Victorian Era, was obviously very different from how it is today. Punishments more severe, more public, and more common. Prisoners of various classes were stowed away on prison hulks which lugged them around as portable passengers. Crime exists as a detrimental force towards the plot and flows into the idea of people being categorized as their mistakes and classes, even though in the end, everything might not be what it seems. Pip discovers the hidden lives of Newgate prison to the love of a criminal in which he once feared for his life. Dickens shows impeccable insight into this topic as he describes the depths of where the London criminals reside and the doubtful, tedious working of the criminal justice system. 

Some characters in this novel grow up never having a chance. For example, Magwitch. His first memory was stealing turnips and his rap sheet is a mile long. It is no surprise to anyone reading in this book that he eventually succumbs and dies in a jail cell. Magwitch’s outside description is disturbing. He's gigantic, dirty, rude, sloppy, and eats "in a ravenous way that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy, and greedy" (). He comes off as a man that would commit horrific crimes and be charged heavily for them. Although, as we look closer to Magwitch’s character we begin to realize the generous man he is. He picked a little boy out of the marsh that didn’t seem to be too afraid of him to inherit his wealth.

He saw what happened when cruel people became gentlemen and were let off easy (Compeyson) and knew he wanted to turn an unselfish young boy’s life around. He gave Pip a chance where he would have had none. If Pip hadn’t inherited this wealth, he would have stayed a common boy, and then would have eventually turned into a blacksmith. Magwitch knew that Pip was destined for so much more, he saw the good in people when other people saw the filth. Growing up in a society as he lived, al Pip and the people knew there was a class rank. If you were rich and successful, like the creepy Miss. Havisham, people looked past your flaws because you were affluent and intelligent. But if you were ravenous and dirty, you were seen as a criminal, where there was a rich, generous man behind it all. Dickens wanted to prove a point by having us look past the artificial descriptions of the characters to make up our own minds about the situation at hand.

Speaking of crime throughout this novel, let's take a look where I believe some of these ideas came from. Helga de la Brache was a young woman from Sweden. She gained notoriety for becoming a famous con artist and convincing people she was the daughter of  King Gustav IV of Sweden. She received a royal pension for this. The trial in 1867 drew much attention from royal and civil classes. She reminded me very much of Estella by being able to manipulate people into believing one thing when they were just really are the total opposite. This was a mind blowing feat to me; she was able to accumulate all this money by just her significant skill in wooing people and talking herself up.

Estella was able to do the same thing in theory, but with men. In the 1860s there were four major court cases. Petty cases, which were minor offenses dealt with unpaid and unprofessional magistrates. Quarter sessions were held four times a year and were also looked upon by the Justices of the Peace. Assize courts, which I believe Jaggers was involved in, were meant for more serious criminal trials to be heard by professional judges. The last was the Court of King’s Bench which was a royal court that had an overriding jurisdiction over any lower court. These were the main factors of Jaggers’ career and defined the way that Magwitch was tried, even though he never really had a chance.

Crime is a powerful force throughout Dickens Great Expectations. Every chapter has you tangled into an unfamiliar adventure and new criminal aspects. Jaggers deals with crime on an everyday basis and it was no coincidence that he happened to be Pip’s guardian. Through the psychology of social class, the material conditions in which people grow up and live have an everlasting impact on their personal and social identities which influences both the way they think and feel about their social environment and key aspects of their social behavior.

Relative to middle‐class, lower/working‐class individuals are less likely to define themselves in terms of their socioeconomic status and are more likely to have interdependent self‐concepts (like Joe thinking more highly of himself because being a blacksmith and a common man was the only life he ever knew); they are also more inclined to explain social events in situational terms, as a result of having a lower sense of personal control. Working‐class people hold higher on feelings of empathy and are more likely to help others in need. This explains why Magwitch was so eager to make sure that Pip became a gentleman; he saw the potential that this boy had and was destined to make sure that he didn’t grow up the same way he did. Highly educated people express prejudice towards minority groups when they are described as not highly educated and therefore pose an economic and social threat to them. Estella being seen with a common boy was not in her favor. She didn’t want to be seen as anything less than what she was perceived as by many. Her life was all about how she was viewed by others and the impact that she could make manipulating anyone that she wanted.

 

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