by Charles Dickens
Great Expectations Chapter 42 Quotes
How we cite the quotes:
"Dear boy and Pip's comrade. I am not a-going fur to tell you my life, like a song or a story-book. But to give it you short and handy, I'll put it at once into a mouthful of English. In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail. There, you got it. That's my life pretty much, down to such times as I got shipped off, arter Pip stood my friend." (42.1)
Magwitch is distinctly aware of the power of storytelling and the power of framing a story in a certain way. He can himself distill his life's story down to a very nice one-liner (compact and travel-sized too), "in jail and out of jail." He knows that the world loves these compact, travel-sized descriptions of people. But he also, without even seeming to mean it, helps us think that maybe not all criminals are born that way.
"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?