Essay about Crime and Imprisonment in Great Expectations

Essay about Crime and Imprisonment in Great Expectations

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Crime and Imprisonment in Great Expectations

    There is a clear relationship between the characters in Great Expectations and crime. Dickens uses this connection to show that a criminal can be reformed. He also shows the characters to be prisoners of their own doing.

Pip is born into his prison. He continuously associates himself with criminals and criminal behavior. Pip likens himself to a criminal from the start: "I think my sister must have had some general idea that I was a young offender whom as Accoucheur Policeman had taken up . . . and delivered over to her to be dealt with according to the outraged majesty of the law" (41; ch. 4). He equates his home to a cage or prison and Mrs. Joe becomes not a sister but a jailer. Pip makes the quick transition from ignorance concerning the Hulks, from "Please what's Hulks' said I" (33; ch. 2) to feeling "sensible of the great convenience that the Hulks were handy for me. I was clearly on my way there" (34; ch. 2).

Pip sets himself up to be prepared for jail after every event. When Pumblechook chokes on the brandy that Pip has filled with tar he says "I had no doubt murdered him somehow" (46; ch. 5). Dickens ties Pip even closer to criminals by making him portray the title character in the story of George Barnwell. Pip realizes his alliance with crime during the reading; "What stung me, was the identification of the whole affair with my unoffending self. When Barnwell began to go wrong . . . I felt positively apologetic" (123; ch. 15). Again the union with criminals comes into play when Pip discovers Mrs. Joe has been attacked; "With my head full of George Barnwell, I was at first disposed to believe that I must have had some hand in the attack...

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... soon turn into beautiful flowers are associated with dark, grim prisons. It is through this early interpretation that the reader is forewarned of Pip's future with crime and criminals.

Pip's future is mapped out from the beginning. He unknowingly enters into a life-long partnership with Magwitch that affects every part of his life. The great expectations that were destined to make Pip a gentleman are given from a reformed criminal. The criminal has seen the wrong of his ways and has decided to help the one person who never questioned him, Pip. Dickens uses the imprisonment issue throughout the text, in some cases as a threat and others as fate.

Works Cited

Reed, John. "Confinement and Character in Dickens' Novels." Dickens Studies Annual London: Southern Illinois UP, 1970.

Sadrin, Anny. Great Expectations. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1988.


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