Great Expectations by Charles Dickens outlines and follows the life of the young boy Pip who grows up to live the life he has always dreamed of. In describing this story Dickens incorporates a number of themes into the novel but none is more prevalent than that of the Victorian judicial and penal system. This theme remains constant throughout the novel and finally culminates at the end. Dickens imposes his ideology of the Victorian penal and judicial system onto the character of Pip and uses him to allow the readers to witness what he believes to be the faults of the system and therefore society. To do this Dickens includes many aspects of the penal and judicial system including the presence of the prisons, the transportation ships and the death penalty. Dickens also uses his characters to continually exert the presence of this theme as many of the main characters, predominantly after Pip childhood, are representatives of the Victorian penal and judicial system. These characters include, a lawyer; Mr. Jaggers, the judge, Newgate Prison, the Hulks, and the convicts themselves; Abel Magwich and Compeyson. The paragraphs in Chapter twenty of the novel includes all of these aspects, which are so central to the meaning, and construction of the novel. The Victorian judicial and penal system and the class system that surrounds it is a major theme in this novel as Dickens himself was affected by the system and there after developed many of his own ideologies based on the running of the system.
Charles Dickens was born in 1812 at a time when the judicial and penal system was at a stage of reform, it was also noted that at this period of time England was a savagely governed nation. "in 1810, Romilly said that "there is probably no other country in the world in which so many and so great a variety of human actions is punishable by law." As a result during the 1820's many crimes began to be deemed not severe enough for execution, however this also led to problems as England was now forced to detain these offenders.