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Pip is a multidimensional character, with hopes and charm and honesty and flaws. He is utterly sympathetic, as I'm sure little Charles Dickens once was himself.

Pip, an abused and undefended boy, is picked out rather randomly by a near stranger (seemingly the idealized parent for whom every child secretly hopes) to become a gentleman---to rise above the meagre expectations for which his limited birth has chosen him. Even his closest childhood ally, Joe the blacksmith, does nothing (read that: nothing) to defend him against Joe's abusive wife, Pip's older sister. To Dickens' discredit, I felt that he over-defended Joe's weakness as a non-defender. But, by the same token, Dickens' rendering of Joe's all-too-realistic weakness is quite honest and common: after all, so few adults really do stick their necks out to defend the child. I am only left to suspect that in Dickens' own childhood none did either. I would guess that like Pip, Dickens was surrounded entirely by adults who were weak, sadistic, self-centered, or manipulative. My guess is that only his talent, hard word, and patience allowed him to rise above.

My only real criticism of the book (and it's not a big one) comes near the end, when Pip tries to help Magwitch escape England and thus find safety. Granted, Dickens' treatment of this situation does assist the flow of the novel, and does allow him to show just how much Pip has grown to care for his benefactor, but it still left me shaking my head. (And I'm not spoiling the plot, because in the version I read the editor's footnotes spoil the plot anyway early on in the reading, as clearly the editor assumes that the reader knows the story beforehand. Then again, maybe the editor is spoiling the plot to give himself some power. I felt some of his footnotes, which are otherwise quite helpful for background, suggest that he was in an annoying sort of competition with Dickens to show his own greatness.)


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So although the plot device works for Dickens' purpose, it just didn't strike me as sufficiently realistic to keep my disbelief suspended. My reason: Magwitch is a hardy, intelligent, cunning world traveler, who suddenly, for no good enough reason, puts all his trust for escape from England (and thus his life) into the hands of a complete novice, Pip, who creates a foolhardy plan for escape that ends up getting Magwitch captured and sentenced to death.

In reality, given what Dickens' shows us about Magwitch's character, here's what I think would have really happened had Magwitch heard Pip's plan:

Magwitch: "Pip, thank you for creating a plan to rescue me, but I think I'll pass. I'll go off into the night on my own, and leave England the same way I came to it: on my own."

Magwitch would have traveled onward with less hurrah, more stealth, and far more privacy. And as the result he would have likely left England safe and sound, and continued to keep up his benefactor relationship with Pip.