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"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?
"When we was put in the dock, I noticed first of all what a gentleman Compeyson looked, wi' his curly hair and his black clothes and his white pocket-handkercher, and what a common sort of a wretch I looked. When the prosecution opened and the evidence was put short, aforehand, I noticed how heavy it all bore on me, and how light on him. When the evidence was giv in the box, I noticed how it was always me that had come for'ard, and could be swore to, how it was always me that the money had been paid to, how it was always me that had seemed to work the thing and get the profit. But, when the defence come on, then I see the plan plainer; for, says the counsellor for Compeyson, 'My lord and gentlemen, here you has afore you, side by side, two persons as your eyes can separate wide; one, the younger, well brought up, who will be spoke to as such; one, the elder, ill brought up, who will be spoke to as such; one, the younger, seldom if ever seen in these here transactions, and only suspected; t'other, the elder, always seen in 'em and always wi'his guilt brought home. Can you doubt, if there's but one in it, which is the one, and, if there's two in it, which is much the worst one?" (42.32)
Wow, what a balanced, unbiased, and egalitarian legal system. It makes total sense: the criminal who is young, articulate, well dressed, who has pretty manners, and who knows how to shake a handkerchief is totally capable of reforming. But the grimy, poorly dressed, often convicted, perpetual rule breaker will never reform. We love when life is so black-and-white, and when the law sees it that way too.