Throughout Great Expectations, Charles Dickens's attitudes toward crime and punishment differ greatly from his real-life views. Dickens, according to Phillip Collins in Dickens and Crime, "had strong and conflicting feelings about criminals" (1), which explains why he was known to refer to criminals as both "irreclaimable wretches" and "creatures of neglect" (33). The author's contradictions toward crime stem from the fact that Dickens was constantly torn between his childhood memories of prison and poverty and the legal training he gained as an adult. According to Robert Coles in "Charles Dickens and Crime":
Dickens knew how hard-pressed life was for thousands of English families in mid-ninteenth century England, and he knew the legal side of such desperation--a jungle of suspicion and fear and hate. He was especially attentive [if] . . . hungry, jobless men, women, children with few if any prospects became reduced to a fate not only marginal with respect to its "socioeconomic" character but also with respect to its very humanity. (575)
As a result, an ideological dichotomy is created within Dickens that reveals a more liberal stance towards crime in his fiction, than in his non-fiction writing.
If there is one common thread between his fictional and non-fictional writing, it is a deep obsession for crime and law. As Collins suggests, Dickens's "concern for crime was . . . more persistent and more serious than most men's" (1). He then adds that crime during the Victorian age, like today, "was an inescapable social problem" and that "Dickens is conspicuous among great novelists for his passion for dramatizing and commenting ...
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...ip, who turns his back against those who loved and cared for him most. First, he turns his back against Joe and Biddy out of shame for their poverty. Then he turns against Magwitch when he finds out that he's Pip's benefactor. Although his repulsion towards Magwitch is somewhat justifiable, Dickens' point still comes through clearly, which is that a person should not be not be judged for the clothes one wear, or even always for the crimes one commits. This epitomizes the dichotomy Dickens felt towards both the treatment and perception of criminals.
Ackroyd, Peter. Dickens. New York: Harper, 1990.
Coles, Robert. "Charles Dickens and the Law." Virginia Quarterly Review 59 (1983): 564-586.
Collins, Phillip. Dickens and Crime. New York: St. Martin's, 1962.
Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: Morrow, 1988.
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