Laws, Crime and Punishment in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

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Laws, Crime and Punishment in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations criticises the Victorian judicial and penal system. Through the novel, Charles Dickens displays his point of view of criminality and punishment. This is shown in his portraits of all pieces of such system: the lawyer, the clerk, the judge, the prison authorities and the convicts. In treating the theme of the Victorian system of punishment, Dickens shows his position against prisons, transportation and death penalty. The main character, a little child who has expectations of becoming a gentleman to be of the same social position of the girls he loves, passes from having no interest on criminality and its penalties to be very concerned on the issue. By
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In this acquisitive society, the only important thing was to make fortune, so people were much terrified of losing it. Because of this, any sort of theft was regarded as a serious crime and laws were made to show people that this offence was harshly punished.

At the time when Great Expectations is set, the 1810-20s, there were a great number of offenders, most of whom were convicted of theft. Theft was considered a felony like homicide and was punishable with death. Jails were dark, overcrowded and filthy. All kinds of prisoners were kept together with no separation of men and women, the young and the old, or the sane and the insane. The poor conditions of the Victorian prisons are described in detail by Dickens in Great Expectations. In the 2nd volume of the novel, Pip comes across “a grim stone building” (163): Newgate Prison. Looking with horror, Pip offers us a portrait of the inside of the prison and criticism on capital punishment:

“As I declined the proposal on the plea of an appointment, he was so good as to take me into a yard and show me where the gallows was kept, and also where people were publicly whipped, and then he showed me the Debtors’ door, 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 the door the day after tomorrow at eight in the…