Throughout the novel “Great Expectations”, Charles Dickens introduces his characters in very mysterious and intriguing ways, and keeps the reader guessing about their motives for the greater part of the novel. This technique serves multiple purposes; not only does it keep the reader entertained, as would be expected from a novel, it also allows Dickens a lot of scope for creating interesting literary effects, making the reader feel certain emotions and therefore making him able to convey his ideas to the reader; he effectively uses the personalities of the characters in the novel as a vehicle to display his beliefs, and give them a favourable foothold in the minds of the readers. Abel Magwitch is introduced with the direct speech; “hold your noise!”, giving the reader the immediate impression that a malefactor character is about to be introduced, and it is not until the latter part of the novel that the reader finds out about his kind-hearted personality and the way he has been mistreated to the point of him becoming “rough” – in the sense that the younger Pip would find him very threatening and the older Pip would dislike him due to class issues.
Of all of the characters in the novel, it is Pip’s unknown benefactor Abel Magwitch; and his acting guardian, known only as Mr. Jaggers, who come across as the most mysterious. In fact, throughout the novel, it is almost impossible for the reader to achieve a complete understanding of Mr. Jaggers’ personality and motives. Dickens clearly created him as a “strong” character, who would have the power to greatly assist or greatly hinder the protagonist, Pip. Magwitch, on the other hand, seems to be almost the inverse of this. He comes across from near the beginning of the novel as very open, and very easy to read into; his weaknesses and strengths are shown, through the eyes of the young naive Pip – the reader will be able to see things that Pip cannot. When Magwitch is reintroduced into the story, it soon becomes apparent that he is prepared to do as much as he can to benefit Pip, despite the fact his poor and uneducated background would make this a great challenge. By doing this, Dickens goes against the expectations of the reader, establishing himself as a social commentator and making the reader question their own lines of thought.
At the start of the Novel, Magwitch is presented as a basic antagonist character, as might be found in a children’s novel with a young child as the protagonist: he is much older, larger and apparently stronger than Pip, and through Pip’s eyes he would have appeared very strange and different from the norm. He is described as having a “terrible voice”, and he appears from the direction of the graves, giving him a more sinister introduction into the novel. Dickens is using this encounter as a way to immediately grab the reader’s attention with action, and is also throwing in a red herring, as many readers will quickly jump to the conclusion that Magwitch will take on the role as the primary antagonist in the novel.
However, unlike most Children’s’ Novels antagonists, much stranger and less threatening details are included in his initial description. He is described as “A man with no hat, and with broken shoes, and with an old rag tied round his head”, which creates the foundations of a stage for him to be a much more mysterious, complex and unique character than a basic “villain” character – subconsciously, the reader will already be pondering the significance of certain details, and gradually beginning to build their own picture of Magwitch. Despite this, the opening part of the storyline continues to establish Magwitch being portrayed as a threatening and dangerous character. Dickens deliberately includes small suggestive details – another example being the description of Jaggers’ office later in the novel – among fast-paced action sections of the novel, or sections of particular interest or tension, so that later on, during events of revelations, the reader subconsciously pieces the puzzle together with feelings of surprise and realisation.
The reader sees much greater signs of Magwitch’s inner vulnerability with the phrase “he hugged his shuddering body in both his arms – clasping himself, as if to hold himself together”. At this point, most readers will subconsciously realise that there is more to this particular character than a basic antagonist, but it is also clear that the young, naï¿½ve Pip still feels very threatened by his presence. When Magwitch thinks that Pip’s mother is nearby, Dickens describes that “He started, made a short run, and stopped and looked over his shoulder.” – showing his vulnerability for the first time. Pip is shown not to see this when he narrates that Pip “timidly exclaimed” about his mothers’ death. The reader is also made to feel less dislike for Magwitch, as he is shown to have acted aggressively because of desperation rather than because of malice or greed. Already Dickens is introducing his theme of the socially disadvantaged.
During Pip’s second meeting with Magwitch, Magwitch says “You’d be but a fierce young hound indeed, if at your time of life you could help to hunt a wretched warmint, hunted as near death and dunghill as this poor wretched warmint is!” This small section of dialogue establishes Magwitch as a good person. He is still threatening, but he takes up the mantle of a battered and beaten rogue rather than a villain, bearing many similarities to the “antihero” archetype used so often in modern stories. He loses the remainder of his villain status soon afterwards, when he makes sure to relieve Pip of any of the blame for the missing food and brandy stolen from Pip’s house, by confessing to have stolen it himself.
Pip seems to forget or disregard this act of kindness, and the gratitude and sympathy he once felt for Magwitch is quickly replaced by unfair prejudices as the novel progresses. When Pip is reminded of his association with Magwitch by his encounter with an accomplice of the latter, he says what a “guiltily coarse and common thing it was… to be on secret terms of conspiracy with convicts”. Many readers will be very sympathetic towards Magwitch, due to the fact that Pip has already been made dislikeable because of his new found pretentiousness. Dickens keeps the reader curious about the role Magwitch will play in the story, and wondering if he will make an appearance later on in the novel. This expands even more on Dickens’ social commentary and ethical lessons.
Throughout the novel, Dickens uses many of his characters to convey his moral beliefs, which were – at the time of his writing – very unconventional compared to the mainstream social and moral values. One of the main lessons Dickens teaches within the story is that of the hypocrisy of social class. Because he has kept the reader wondering about Magwitch’s motives, he is making the readers ask themselves whether or not a man from such a low social class, who is obviously from a criminal background, can take the role of a villain or of a hero.
Later, after Pip has obtained his wealth, there is another encounter with convicts. By this point, the reader already views Pip in a relatively negative way – Most readers will dislike him, but want him to go back to the way he was before, as opposed to discarding him as a hero and wanting him to be punished. Dickens adds to this situation an obvious dislike between pip and the convicts on the coach , and it makes the reader further question what social status yields in terms of morals and benevolence. One convict says, with dignity, “I don’t want to go. I am quite ready to stay behind. As fur as I am concerned any one’s welcome to my place.”, making the reader further consider where these convicts stand. By now, the reader will have established that Magwitch is the “best” of all the convicts, and will begin to disassociate antagonism with lawlessness, as Dickens intended. In addition, the several “upper-class” passengers on the coach all seem to act in a very pompous and dislikeable manner, making the reader feel further sympathy for the convicts.
When Magwitch reappears into the story, he comes across almost immediately as having a strong personality and being able to take charge of the situation. Pip says “He watched me as I laid my purse upon the table and opened it, and he watched me as I separated two one-pound notes from its contents”, and then Magwitch “folded them long-wise, gave them a twist, set fire to them at the lamp, and dropped the ashes into the tray”. Pip is slightly frightened of him and wants to get rid of him, making the reader feel more sympathy for Magwitch, but also wish that Pip could accept him and lose his egotistic traits. Dickens continues to convey his belief that social class does not determine virtue or kind-heartedness. In itself, the fact that Magwitch went to such extremities to help a boy that aided him so many years ago is commendable.
Despite his apparent boorishness, Magwitch’s kindness is shown in the great joy he gets from knowing that it was he who made Pip a gentleman. He says “Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman on you! It’s me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should go to you…”. His words come across as quite frightening, although this aspect stems mainly from the amount of devotion he feels towards Pip, which appears quite overwhelming to both the reader and to Pip. However, the reader can soon adapt to this and see Magwitch as an advocate of goodwill, with the best intentions and wishes for Pip in mind. Pip, on the other hand, feels repulsed by the presence of Magwitch. He narrates that he “recoiled a little from him” and soon afterwards he says that he “reluctantly” gave Magwitch his hands.
When Magwitch tells Pip and Herbert his story, he is fully established as a mistreated rogue character, perhaps one of a kind in novels of this era, to be a criminal for whom the reader is made to feel sympathy. It becomes known that his descent into a life of crime was not his fault, but a result of being mistreated and thrown onto the streets with no chance of living a happy, stable life. Dickens uses this sub-story as a stage with which to vent most of his beliefs. Not only does he carry on the theme of social class hypocrisy, but also suggests to the reader that the law courts are corrupted, and society in general is at fault.
By the end of the novel, it seems that Magwitch is one of the most benevolent and heroic of all of the characters, despite the fact that he is clearly one of the “lowest” in social class compared with all of the other characters. However, Dickens does not encourage the reader to believe that people of a lower social class are generally better people, or vice-versa, by also creating characters of varying classes of varying levels of good qualities. Herbert Pocket is from an upper class background and remains a “good” character throughout the entire novel. Miss Havisham is from one of the most socially high classes in the whole novel, and starts out as a malefactor and leaves the story apologising and repenting for her wrongdoings. Joe and Biddy come across as very approachable and softened despite their low social status, and also remain good characters, with hidden strength and dignity discovered later in the story. Finally, Orlick and Compeyson end up being some of the primary antagonists of the story, and are from opposite ends of the social spectrum. This shows the reader that social class has no effect whatsoever on the kindness in a person’s heart, and encourages readers to lose the prejudices they may have had previously.
Mr. Jaggers, the lawyer of both Miss Havisham and Abel Magwitch, as well as Pip’s Guardian before he came of age, is quite possibly the most powerful character in the entire story. This power comes mainly from his intelligence and ability to know what to say, when to say it, and know what his associates are thinking – all of which he uses to his advantage in order to have great control over everyone who surrounds him. He speaks with a hidden ostentatiousness that impresses whoever he speaks to, without giving them the courage to dare to challenge him as being arrogant or obnoxious. It is this confidence that makes people fear him and which, in turn, gives him most of his power. His prowess and skill as a lawyer makes people further keen to keep him on their side, and finally, the constant mind games he seems to play with everyone he meets prevents anyone from daring to oppose him in any way.
He is clearly one of the most neutral characters in the story, and the reader is never told what his true motives are with regards to Pip and his future. Jaggers seems to derive great pleasure from seeing Pip make errors of judgement and fall short of his dreams and desires, but also shows no animosity in remedying Pip’s mistakes. However, he doesn’t show the same pleasure as Magwitch might feel in being of assistance. This suggests that Jaggers’ primary motive in life is money, and he is determined to make as good a living as possible with as little risk as possible, which forces him to be completely professional and to be emotionless in the workplace, always doing what he is paid to do and never making exceptions for the benefit or impairment of another. Despite this, he does often seem to take pleasure in confusing people, or making them seem foolish by outwitting them.
Jaggers is first introduced on the stairs at Miss Havisham’s house, and his eyes are described as being “disagreeably sharp and suspicious”. Like many of the adult characters introduced in this part of the story, he is made to seem unusual and dislikeable, purely from the description of his appearance. Dickens hints that he will be an important character later on with Pip’s words “He was nothing to me, and I could have had no foresight then, that he ever would be anything to me”.
The second meeting with Jaggers shows his extremely powerful ability as an argumentative speaker. He is immediately said to have “an expression of contempt on his face”, and starts the argument with the words “you have settled it all to your own satisfaction, I have no doubt?”. Wopsle intelligently defends himself by saying “Sir… without having the honour of your acquaintance, I do say Guilty.”, which is both polite and firm. Despite his best efforts, Jaggers still manages to easily make Wopsle appear to be a fool. He asks sarcastic, simple questions, and tricks Wopsle into trying to give a complex answer, embarrassing him and making him feel uncomfortable. He tells him “Don’t evade the question”, and repeats Wopsle’s answers to make them inevitable and worry him into thinking he has made mistakes.
Jaggers asks him “Do you know that none of these witnesses have yet been cross-examined?”, to which Wopsle can find no answer. Every time he tries to escape from Jaggers’ questions and arguments, he is easily defeated, and even Pip and the others are convinced by Jaggers. He ends the argument, making Wopsle appear very guilty by telling the others “that same man might be summoned as a juryman upon this very trial”, and Pip narrates “We were all deeply persuaded that the unfortunate Wopsle had gone too far”, despite the fact Wopsle hadn’t dared argue aggressively against Jaggers. This encounter gives the reader a large amount of respect for Jaggers’ skills, if not for Jaggers himself, as Wopsle had already been made dislikeable near the beginning of the novel, through the eyes of the young Pip at the dinner table in his home.
Jaggers is described as having “an air of authority not to be disputed”, and Pip also says that he had “a manner expressive of knowing something secret about every one of us that would effectually do for each individual if he chose to disclose it”, which further shows how powerful Jaggers is in terms of social strength and unofficial authority. When Jaggers speaks with Joe and Pip, he says “I have unusual business to transact with you, and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. If my advice had been asked, I should not have been here”. This honesty on the part of Jaggers makes him less approachable as a character, but also earns him more respect. In addition, it shows the reader that professionalism and lack of emotional attachment is more important to him than popularity and likability.
When Joe declines the offer of being given something in return for losing Pip as an apprentice, Pip says that “Mr. Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a fool for his disinterestedness”. This shows that Jaggers not only considers material possessions to be extremely important, but also believes that everyone should live with such priorities. This point is further established when Jaggers says “I should think not!” after Pip agrees that he has no objection to the conditions of the deal. Once again, he admits “I tell you at once, I am paid for my services, or I shouldn’t render them”, with no difficulty whatsoever, further showing that he believes in money as the highest priority of life, and that in his eyes, there is no lack of dignity in this belief.
Jaggers clearly wants it to be known to everyone who is connected with him that he is strictly professional and will have no personal attachment with any of his business subjects. He says “I never recommend anybody”, showing that he wants to minimise, as much as possible, the risk of being personally associated with anything in his business life. However, he begins to talk to Pip in a more kindly way, referring to Pip as “my young friend!”, and he is described as “frowning and smiling both at once”. Finally with Dickens’ words “”That’s more like it!” cried Mr. Jaggers.”, the reader begins to find Jaggers slightly more likeable than before. In spite of this, Dickens re-establishes that Jaggers primary goal is money, by saying that “Mr. Jaggers had looked on at this, as one who recognized in Joe the village idiot, and in me his keeper”, after, once again, Joe declines the offer of a “present” in exchange for the loss of Pips services.
When Pip arrives in London, the coachman says of Jaggers; “I don’t want to get into trouble. I know him!” – This adds a layer of mystery and intrigue to Jaggers’ personality, as well as a foreboding sense of danger. More mystery is built up by Wemmick telling Pip “But it stands to reason, his time being valuable, that he won’t be longer than he can help”. When Pip enters Jaggers’ room, still more mystery is added by the presence of strange objects. It is described as “a most dismal place”. Pip narrates that the skylight is “eccentrically pitched”, making the reader conclude that this detail matches part of Jaggers’ personality. There were “two dreadful casts on a shelf”, and Jaggers’ chair is described as being “like a coffin”, making the reader more aware of a new, mysterious layer of Jaggers’ personality.
As the novel progresses, Jaggers begins to “toy” with Pip, playing mind games and not giving straight answers. Jaggers is a prime example of how Dickens likes to introduce one aspect of a character’s personality at a time, starting with the confidence and social strength Jaggers has, along with his ability to argue and his belief in money as the prime motivator in life, followed by a mysterious depth, and then later on a dark sense of humour, and finally concluding with a strange form of sympathy for the characters whose lives Jaggers has seen scattered and destroyed. Near the end of the story, Jaggers seems sorry – albeit in a hidden, defensive manner – for the fact that Estella ended up being adopted by Miss Havisham, and consequently the backwards life she grew up to lead. Dickens uses small phrases like “Even Mr. Jaggers started when I said those words” in order to show the small emotional gaps in Jaggers’ defensive personality.
Despite the respectability Dickens builds up around Jaggers, and the small emotional gaps shown later in the novel, Jaggers does come across as generally slightly dislikeable and untrustworthy, as well as materialistic and greedy. Dickens uses this layer of Jaggers’ personality as yet another vehicle for showing his moral lessons to the reader; because Jaggers’ shows such little sympathy for the people he deals with in his job, and for his own assistant, molly, the reader naturally feels sympathy towards them. The reader is made to disagree with Jaggers over his views on “property” and on emotions. He is made to seem cold and unhappy, and as a result the reader associates warmth with happiness. Because so many people depend on Jaggers and he treats them so badly, the reader is generally encouraged to support the poor, defenceless, lower-class people caught up in the difficulties of the society of the era.
Both of these characters have many layers to their personalities, and Dickens manages to teach the reader not to judge people on first appearances, and he also additionally uses these characters to convey his beliefs about social class and about the unjust British legal system. Because the novel is in fact set in the past (historical even during the era Dickens wrote it), the readers during Dickens’ era would feel like there were mistakes in the past that should never be repeated, causing a large effect on Dickens’ society, helping to spread the ideas of equality and seemingly taking on the role of a large cornerstone in the build up of the far fairer modern-day society.