Abel Magwitch, the convict and Pip’s secret benefactor is also the father of Estella (though we do not find this out until Magwitch is soon to die, which another example of the two perspectives and withholding information). Both these characters, father and daughter, try to escape their roots. Magwitch’s childhood was one of danger, poverty and loneliness. He was orphaned as a child and was forced into a life of crime. His description of his life was, “in jail and out of jail.” He became independent and I think this helped him choose whether or not to go and risk his life to see Pip in England.
I believe his experiences did partly shape the man he became, yet with all that loneliness, one would have thought that Magwitch would grow up to be bitter and aloof. But perhaps company was all that was needed to show his good side and generosity. His life of loneliness must have caused him to care affectionately for those he did happen to meet.
We meet Magwitch in chapter one, after he had escaped from “the Hulk” (the prison ship moored in the Thames) and encountered Pip as a young boy. By the use of his harsh and broken language, we can tell he was not properly educated, indicating that he was from the lower-class.
He was on trial with Compeyson, Magwitch’s former partner in crime and the man Miss Havisham was to marry, but because of certain inequalities, each received a different sentence. Compeyson, a gentleman who had influenced Magwitch into crime, received a shorter sentence than Magwitch. On the day of the trial, Compeyson had dressed up in a suit and looked very much like a “gentleman”, whereas Magwitch had looked like a “common wretch”. The courts were biased against Magwitch and judged the two men chiefly on their appearance and their upbringing. This was the type of superficiality Dickens was concerned about. He disliked the way society based judgements on something such as appearances. I agree with Dickens’, as this is not a just way to try someone. Nowadays, this practice has been stopped, and the justice system judges more fairly. But though the courts and justice system have changed, society, I think, still has some prejudices against those who look different or were brought up in a different way.
When we see Magwitch again, he has changed from the rough, ravenous scary man on the marshes and is shown as Pip’s secret benefactor. We are, as Pip was, shocked at the revelation of this information and we wonder how he earned all that money to give to Pip. It also does seem very far-fetched for a man to give so much of what he earned to a young boy who he had met only three times. We also did not assume that he would be alive after the soldiers caught him, as it was frequent in those days for a criminal to be hanged. We find out, however, that he had been “transported” to Australia. This meant that he was able to work as a sheep-farmer and earn his fortune, so long as he never returned to England. The fact that a convict was able to earn money, suggests that Australia was less class-conscious and provided more opportunities to succeed than England. Magwitch risked his life to return to London to see the gentleman he had made with his fortune.
I think that Magwitch made a very hard choice in choosing to come to England to visit Pip. To risk your life to see someone is a foolhardy thing to do, yet Magwitch, who is full of compassion towards Pip and is strong from his experiences, did not mind risking everything to see Pip. If I were in the same situation, it would be a very difficult choice to make and I don’t think I would be able to choose. I think I would postpone the meeting for a few decades, before I had enough courage to see Pip. But as I feel strongly for Pip, I know for a fact that I would risk it someday.
We find out that Magwitch had “lost” his own child, who we find out is Estella. Could this have contributed to his generosity to Pip? Magwitch became a wealthy man and chose to spend his awards on raising another child to replace the child he “lost”.
When Pip was twenty three, Magwitch returns to London, risking his own life to see Pip. He is overjoyed with the results and in the end, died knowing he had shared his happiness and wealth with Pip.
In spite of Magwitch’s criminal past, we know him as a kind and generous man. Dickens presents this character as having high morals to show that even a convict can be a good person at heart. He also uses Magwitch to portray the crime and punishment system in Victorian England. Many of the poorer citizens ended up doing criminal deeds, as they could not afford to support themselves.
Magwitch, like all these other poor people, were victims of society, in my opinions. They were forced into these criminal ways mainly because society ignored their needs and there was no safety net to fall back on. I think that if society paid more attention to these needy people, their lives would have not been as bad. Dickens is showing us the bad side of society, which was not commonly done in those days.
Estella is the daughter of Abel Magwitch and Molly, an accused murderer, though when we first meet Estella, through Pip keeping the information from us, we are unaware of her real parentage. We believe her to be an upper-class girl, as her speech and company is those of the upper middle class. We find out however that this was because Miss Havisham chose to bring up the girl, and so her upbringing and education was good to the standards of rich people. But even though Estella was educated and never went hungry, she has grown up to be incapable of love, due to Miss Havisham’s obsession with revenge, leaving Estella lonelier than she should have been.
Dickens teaches us many lessons through this character. We learn that love is not something to be played around with, and that simply being rich cannot make you happy. I think Estella is a sympathetic character in the book. Though she is heartless and cannot feel love, I feel very sad for her, as a life without ever feeling love or giving it out may lead to a gloomy end, as it did with Miss Havisham’s. Dickens is also telling us that money can mislead us. Money cannot earn the real things that matter in life. Real love, friendship and happiness can’t be bought by any amount of money one can produce and this message applies to us today as much as it did back then.