Pip and Magwitch’s False Sense of Class Mobility

Charles Dicken’s Great Expectation is well-known for its commentary on class differences. This novel focuses on socioeconomic injustices in Victorian England that still remain relevant to this day. It may appear that the experiences of lower-income people as completely remote from modern society. However, Pip’s attempt to raise himself out of his social position into a “gentleman” is simply a game in which he is the pawn. This becomes evident to the reader by the unclear status that Pip has in society.

By this point in the novel, Pip could be considered a gentleman based on how his character aligns with Victorian ideals. Pip’s attitude toward Magwitch showcases a superiority complex towards people who don’t live up to the Victorian standards of proper behavior. Magwitch’s manners during eating are quite disagreeable to Pip:

He ate in a ravenous way that was very disagreeable, and all his actions were uncouth, noisy, and greedy. Some of his teeth had failed him since I saw him eat on the marshes, and as he turned his food in his mouth, and turned his head sideways to bring his strongest fangs to bear upon it, he looked terribly like a hungry old dog. If I had begun with any appetite, he would have taken it away, and I should have sat much as I did,—repelled from him by an insurmountable aversion, and gloomily looking at the cloth. (Ch 40, Paragraph 46)

Pip’s comparison of Magwitch to a dog is dehumanizing, but that is exactly what marks a classist society. He has assumed the attitudes of a “gentleman,” which inspires the labeling of people as inferior.  These attitudes take a complete turn around when Pip realizes that Magwitch was, in fact, the benefactor this entire time. Pip’s identity as a “gentleman” is put into question by Magwitch’s story that so closely parallels to Pip’s own story.

When Magwitch was a young man, he grew up a poor orphan and was constantly in trouble. Upon meeting Compeyson, Magwitch recalls how they became business partners in swindling. Compeyson is characterized by Magwitch as, “He’d no more heart than a iron file, he was as cold as death, and he had the head of the Devil afore mentioned.” (Ch 42, Paragraph 17) This is similar to the sentiment expressed by Pip earlier when he assumes Magwitch as an “other.” Pip and Magwitch have gone through similar experiences of blindly following others in hopes of gaining social status. 

The partnership between Magwitch and Compeyson took a turn for the worst when both were accused of a felony by using stolen banknotes into circulation. Magwitch recalls how his treatment in the legal system was unfair compared to Compeyson, simply due to the “gentleman” status that Compeyson appeared to hold. Magwitch notes how Compeyson receives less prosecution due to his education, speech and “good character.” Compeyson is able to represent himself in the light of a Victorian gentleman, whereas Magwitch depends on his false sense of security. 

Magwitch had a perceived view of his own class that was greatly influenced by Victorian society assuring its lower-class members that social mobility is entirely possible. In the case of Magwitch, and now Pip, Dickens proves otherwise. Pip’s changing attitude throughout the novel corresponds to a transforming identity. It should not, however, be assumed that upward mobility will continue indefinitely for him. The idealized “gentleman” that Pip aspires to be is simply a construct by Victorian society. 

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