Study Guide

Great Expectations Criminality

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Magwitch is more of a thug busting up a pawn shop than a smooth criminal: that role is left to the gentleman-like Compeyson. The novel is full of criminals, from Orlick to Magwitch to Molly to Arthur Havisham—so many, in fact, that we have to ask if criminals are really a "class" in the way that a lot of nineteenth-century people thought, or if people become criminals out of misfortune and harsh upbringings. Are these miscreants born bad, or are they driven to crime by neglect and forced back to it by an unjust legal system?

Questions About Criminality

  1. Who are the criminals in this novel? Are all criminals breaking the law? Or do some people engage in criminal activity without breaking the law?
  2. What role does the law play in notions of right and wrong in Great Expectations?
  3. Why are Jaggers and Wemmick so popular at Newgate Prison and among Londoners?

Chew on This

Pip's first encounter with Magwitch prevents his ultimate happiness: he would eventually have become happy with his life on the marshes if Magwitch hadn't started funding him.

In Great Expectations, law and justice have more to do with appearance than with action.

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