"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens.

Essay by DougtheamazingmanHigh School, 11th gradeA, August 2003

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It would be fair to say that Australia's role in Great Expectations is fairly minimal. It simply functions as a plot device; a place to deposit Magwitch when he is no longer required and a place for him to return from when needed again to further the plot. With the rise in postcolonial studies, however, Australia and Magwitch's experiences there have become the focal points for new readings of the novel. Thus it is through a postcolonial reading of Great Expectations that the issue of Magwitch's return can be addressed. As I have already pointed out, Dickens uses Australia to get rid of Magwitch in the first place and then to have him return. This return I have always found to be problematic: why does Magwitch come back under the threat of death? The answer 'to see Pip' is not satisfactory. However, a postcolonial reading of the novel, I feel, offers a more plausible explanation.

Magwitch's identity and status with regard to the empire throughout the text is an important factor in his motivations for returning. In Postcolonial terms, he is seen through the eyes of the empire (and those of the reader) as other. Pip's first encounter marks him thus, firstly as a convict and then through the cannibal references when he threatens to eat Pip's 'fat cheeks' (3 GE) and threatens to have another convict eat his heart and liver. Due to Magwitch's otherness and subsequent inability to function in normative society, he, along with his heart eating fellow cannibal, is being transported, displaced and removed from the centre. The shipment of convicts to Australia was familiar to Dickens and, though never having gone there, he was a firm believer in its benefits for both the convicts and the imperial centre: it was the...