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A Rhetorical Narratological Approach to the Treatment of Crime and Criminals in Great Expectations

Öztabak Avcı, Elif
This paper aims to present a rhetorical narratological analysis of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861) with a specific focus on the issue of crime and the figure of the criminal. There are many studies pointing out that the novel provides the reader with an anatomy of crime and the criminal; yet, its differing treatment of the criminal characters and its possible effects over the reader have not received much narratological attention. Although Magwitch, Compeyson, and Molly can all be equally considered criminals in the eyes of the law, they are positioned differently in the text. The novel arouses genuine sympathy for Magwitch, whereas it incites implacable hatred towards Compeyson and utter indifference to Molly. The novel’s sympathetic attitude to Magwitch, a socially-marginalized character, aims to invite the reader’s attention to inequalities in the juridical system; however, it does not offer a subversive treatment of the issue of crime because it stays within the confines of bourgeois morality: first, as a Bildungsroman, it underlines the individual’s education resulting in his/her integration into society; second, the implied author does not centralize another socially-disadvantaged character: Molly. As a lower-class woman, she remains voiceless in the margins of the text and her position as a criminal is not contested at all.