by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations Abel Magwitch Quotes
"I first become aware of myself, down in Essex, a thieving turnips for my living. Summun had run away from me—a man—a tinker—and he'd took the fire with him, and left me wery cold." (42.2)
Naughty Magwitch. How dare you steal turnips to survive as a homeless, orphaned little boy? Rules are rules, and a turnip is a turnip, and it's off to juvie for you. Unfortunately, there was no such thing as sealing your records in the nineteenth century—these early thefts are with him for good.
"'This is a terrible hardened one,' they says to prison wisitors, picking out me. 'May be said to live in jails, this boy.' Then they looked at me, and I looked at them, and they measured my head, some on 'em—they had better a-measured my stomach—and others on 'em giv me tracts what I couldn't read, and made me speeches what I couldn't understand. They always went on agen me about the Devil. But what the Devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach, mustn't I?—Howsomever, I'm a getting low, and I know what's due. Dear boy and Pip's comrade, don't you be afeerd of me being low." (42.5)
The law enforcers see Magwitch as the root of all that is wrong in their society—but Magwitch sees society as the root of all that's wrong with him. With no other option, what was he supposed to do but steal turnips?
'He was a convict, a few year ago, and is a ignorant common fellow now, for all he's lucky,' what do I say? I says to myself, 'If I ain't a gentleman, nor yet ain't got no learning, I'm the owner of such. All on you owns stock and land; which on you owns a brought-up London gentleman?' (39.78)
Magwitch may seem like he's being generous with his money, but it's actually the exact opposite of generosity: he's using his money to "buy" himself a gentleman. Of course, by now, Pip knows that you can't buy gentlemanliness: it's maybe the one thing in the world that can't be bought.