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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Barron's Booknotes
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CHAPTERS 41 & 42

In any society, different groups share different values and
communicate in different languages. Here, Herbert and Pip are
on one wavelength, and Magwitch on another. Magwitch is
proud of what he has done for Pip. Yet after he has left, it's
clear that Pip and Herbert regard the whole matter in a different
light. They automatically assume that Pip shouldn't touch
another penny of the old man's money. Herbert goes farther:
Pip ought to pay back what he has already received.

NOTE: It's funny how the source of money defines its value for
Pip and Herbert; no one minded Pip's accepting money from
Miss Havisham. Dickens seems to disagree with their attitude.
(Since both Pip and Herbert feel this way, Dickens is probably
criticizing an attitude fairly common in his society.) Remember,
Herbert has taken this money too, but as long as he doesn't
realize it, he doesn't feel "tainted." Money itself isn't good or
bad, it's what you do with it and how you feel about it that
matters.

Pip now recognizes that a gentleman without money is a
useless creature. But as gentlemen, Herbert and Pip try to treat
Magwitch considerately, even though they're repelled by him.
They realize that he must not be roughly rejected, or he might
recklessly turn himself in. They decide that Pip must get
Magwitch safely abroad, before breaking his ties to the man.

NOTE: Throughout this book, "being a gentleman" is
extremely important-but different people have different ideas
of what it takes to be a gentleman. Consider these various
marks of a gentleman: money, stylish clothes, education, social
graces, decent and honorable behavior. Dickens himself seems
to value the last of these most highly, yet he realizes that, in
Pip's society, a man who lacks a good heart but has money, or
manners, or stylish clothes, may in fact get treated like a
gentleman. It's a slippery term. Watch carefully how various
characters-especially Pip-use it.



The next morning, hoping to understand Magwitch better, Pip
and Herbert ask Magwitch to explain his story. Chapter 42 is a
long flashback told by Magwitch, who's an honest,
unpretentious narrator. Compare his life to his "son" Pip's.
Magwitch knows he was born to a life of crime. He had no
parents (Pip at least had the Gargerys) and he grew up like a
wild child, in one bad environment after another. His first
memory was of stealing turnips to keep himself alive. (Pip's
first memory is of stealing too-to help Magwitch.) All the
authorities expected Magwitch to turn out bad, and so he did.
This is the most graphic example Dickens has yet given us of
how a bad upbringing can warp a child.

Then Magwitch met Compeyson-the convict Pip saw him
fighting that night Magwitch was recaptured. Magwitch's
strongest impression of Compeyson was that he was a
gentleman, and that he used that fact to take advantage of
others. (This explains why Magwitch was so intent on making
and owning a gentleman.) Compeyson had Magwitch do his
dirty work, having already driven one accomplice, Arthur, into
alcoholic despair. Magwitch relates dramatically how Arthur
was haunted by the face of a rich lady they once swindled
together. This should have warned Magwitch, but he seems not
to have cared.

Compeyson was always able to manipulate Magwitch, tangling
him more deeply in crime. Magwitch pauses emotionally,
remembering a woman from his past, but he can't bring himself
to tell about her now. (Notice-another fragment of mystery to
be cleared up.) He goes on to describe how Compeyson turned
on him when they were on trial, using his manners as a
gentleman to get off lightly. Magwitch's simple dialect adds
drama to his description of Compeyson's treachery.

Magwitch ends his tale with his battle with Compeyson on the
marshes. Pip asks if Compeyson is dead (thinking, no doubt, of
that suspicious figure on the stairs), but, ominously, Magwitch
doesn't know. Meanwhile, Herbert casually pushes Pip a note,
in which he adds his own startling knowledge: the alcoholic
Arthur was Miss Havisham's brother, and the villainous
Compeyson was the man who stood her up at the altar. The two
worlds which Pip thought were so separate are in fact
inextricably intertwined.

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