Great Expectations

by: Charles Dickens

Abel Magwitch

Magwitch is absent for much of the novel, but functions as a major instigator for plot activity. He is also key to changing the way Pip understands the world. After Magwitch appears in London and reveals himself as Pip’s benefactor, he tells his life story to Pip and Herbert. Magwitch makes it clear that his life of crime is rooted in impoverishment and neglect: “what the Devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach.” This explanation suggests Magwitch would have preferred to live as a contributing member of society, but was driven into criminality because of a lack of options. His decision to fund Pip’s transformation into a gentleman is motivated by his desire to get a vicarious taste of all the things he could not experience himself: “I’ve come to the old country to see my gentleman spend his money like a gentleman. That’ll be my pleasure.”

Magwitch does not develop as a character, but as more information is revealed about him, Pip (and the reader’s) perception of him changes significantly. In his interactions with the young Pip, Magwitch is a terrifying and sinister figure. When he first reveals the role he has played in Pip’s life, Pip is disgusted and ashamed so that “every hour increased my abhorrence of him.” With time, however, Pip becomes concerned with keeping Magwitch safe and begins feeling kindly toward him. Once Pip learns that Magwitch is actually Estella’s father, he also feels more invested in him. While we rarely get insights into Magwitch’s emotions or motivations, he is humanized through Pip’s increasing affection for him. When Magwitch is finally arrested, Pip vows “I will never stir from your side.” Magwitch’s illness and death create the opportunity for Pip to finally show integrity and loyalty to someone who has made a significant impact upon his life.