Magwitch’s first memory is of stealing turnips. He joins Pip and Estella in the Orphan Club, having never known his parents and having never had a family. In an effort to survive, Magwitch has to break the law. Through his story we see just how messed up Victorian society is and just how unjust the legal system is.
Magwitch is both Pip’s benefactor and Estella’s father. He complicates our notion of what is right and what is wrong in the world of Great Expectations, because, we have to be honest, we like him from the very beginning. Society doesn’t take care of him as a child and so his only choice is to become a criminal. It seems to us that society punishes Magwitch for the behavior it encourages.
We think it’s pretty awesome that Magwitch, without a lick of education, teaches himself how to read and write. And we think it’s even more amazing that Magwitch makes his fortune out of almost nothing. As opposed to most of the wealthy characters in the novel, Magwitch becomes wealthy through hard work and devastating conditions. He is a self-made man.
Magwitch also serves to thwart Pip’s expectations. When he reveals himself as Pip’s benefactor, Pip expectation of becoming a gentleman ceases. Similarly, Pip expects (ding, ding, ding – title sighting!) Magwitch to be dangerous and selfish, but these expectations are dashed when Pip sees the twinkle of love in Magwitch’s eye.