Essay on Crime and Punishment in Great Expectations

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Crime and Punishment in Great Expectations

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
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However, it is the stance that he takes against criminality in real life that tends to differ from his fictional writing. As a novelist, Dickens tends to take a more liberal view on crime. This is evident throughout Great Expectations which "expresse[s] clearly enough a reaction against penological reformism" (Collins 90). Dickens's dissatisfaction with the prison system is evident when Wemmick is giving Pip a walking tour through the streets of London:

We were at Newgate in a few minutes, and we passed through the lodge where some fetter were hanging up on the bare walls among the prison rules, into the interior of the jail. At that time, jails were much neglected, and the period of exaggerated reaction consequent all public wrong-doing . . . was still far off . . . and a frouzy, ugly, disorderly depressing scene it was. (246; ch. 32)

Further evidence of Dickens' concern can be found in Pip's reaction to the Debtor's Door of Newgate Prison,

out of which culprits came to be hanged: heightening the interest of that dreadful portal by giving me to understand that "four on 'em" would come out at that door after to-morrow at eight in the morning, to be killed in a row. This was horrible and gave me a sickening idea of London. (163; ch. 20)

Using Pip as a vessel to express his latent views of criminals, Dickens expresses his

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