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The Betrayal of Trust in Great Expectations, a Novel by Charles Dickens

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Embracing the Deception

English satirical poet, Charles Churchill once said, “Keep up appearances; there lies a test. The world will give thee credit for the rest.” This was initially meant as a jab at untrustworthy politicians and the lies that they tend to tell. This can also apply to various situations in real life as well as fictional literature. Appearances tend to be deceiving and do not always reflect reality. This leads to betrayal of trust which can have disastrous consequences such as married couples splitting up or treasured friendships being broken beyond repair. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Magwitch and his former partner in crime, Compeyson, show that people are not always who they seem to be. Because Magwitch and Compeyson hide their true selves, they live lives that are based around lies.

When Magwitch commits crimes, he does so to survive. He “first [becomes] aware of [himself], down in Essex, a thieving turnips for [his] living”(340; ch. 42). Despite the fact that stealing is illegal, Magwitch does not have the luxuries that most people do and has no choice but to steal everything he needs. However, after an encounter with Pip in the marshes while escaping from prison, Magwitch decides to turn his life around and become a gentleman. Magwitch manages to accumulate a large sum of money, but “no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish [one puts] on, the more the grain will express itself”(320; ch. 39). Being a gentleman is not simply about money. It is also about social elegance, which is a skill that must be learned over time. Realizing this, Magwitch decides to focus on giving Pip a chance to be the man he could not be, knowing that he will be in trouble if he is ever found out.

Compeyson on the other hand, hides his identity for a far more nefarious purpose. In order to steal Miss Havisham’s wealth, “he [practices] on her affection in that systematic way, that he [gets] great sums of money from her…on the plea that when he [is] her husband he must hold and manage it all”(320; ch. 39). After successfully making Miss Havisham fall in love with him, Compeyson extracts money from her. To put salt on the wound, he leaves Miss Havisham on what was supposed to be their wedding day. He is even referred to as having “no more heart than a iron file, he [is] as cold as death, and he [has] the head of the Devil”(342; ch. 42). He is the source of most of the conflict that occurs in the story and has caused misery everywhere that he has gone. When Compeyson is put on trial, Magwitch notices “first of all what a gentleman Compeyson [looks, with] his curly hair and his black clothes and his white pocket-handkercher, and what a common sort of a wretch [Magwitch looks]. When the prosecution [opens] and the evidence [is] put short, aforehand, [he notices] how heavy it all [bears] on [Magwitch], and how light on [Compeyson]”(345; ch. 42). By making himself look like a gentleman, Compeyson manages to fool the judicial system into giving him an easier sentence than Magwitch, despite the fact that he was the primary culprit. Compeyson continuously uses trickery and deception to get what he wants.

Magwitch and Compeyson use deception for two completely different reasons. While Magwitch uses it to fit in and be accepted, Compeyson is selfish and takes advantage of those who fall for his lies. Deception is extremely common in the real world as well. This particularly applies to politicians, who often project a false image of themselves in order to get elected for a position. They claim to support certain minorities or to devoutly follow a religion simply to gain public support. In doing so, they build up a public image filled with lies and false promises. When the general public finally becomes wise to the act, it is too late. Deception is a part of everyday life and not many people are exactly who they say they are.

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