Great Expectations

Great Expectations

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Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict) Character Analysis

The escaped convict Pip helps in the novel's opening scenes, Provis' gratitude towards Pip inspires him to devote his life-savings to Pip, becoming Pip's anonymous patron. Born an orphan on the streets and cruelly swindled by Compeyson, Provis has lived a life in and out of prison. Still, his criminal record is largely the result of unfortunate circumstances, not character, for Provis is kind, good-hearted, and immensely generous.

Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict) Quotes in Great Expectations

The Great Expectations quotes below are all either spoken by Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict) or refer to Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Great Expectations published in 2001.
Book 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

I thought what terrible good sauce for a dinner my fugitive friend on the marshes was. They had not enjoyed themselves a quarter so much before the entertainment was brightened with the excitement he furnished.

Related Characters: Pip Pirrip (speaker), Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

The retinue of soldiers mill around the Christmas Party and create an enjoyable commotion. Pip observes that the mood of the event has notably improved, and he attributes this change, indirectly, to the convict.

That the convict is deemed a “terrible good sauce” stresses the way he is being metaphorically eaten or consumed by the other characters. His misfortune becomes “excitement” for those at the party, because he generates “entertainment” in what is otherwise a relatively boring affair. This passage shows a somewhat mean-spirited "schadenfreude"—happiness at the misfortune of offers—considering it is Christmas Day: the best part of the meal is not gratitude, but rather the excitement “furnished”by negative events.

Pip’s comment speaks more broadly to the odd way humans tend to relate to positive and negative events. Often in Dickens’ novel, seemingly bad occurrences will actually lead to more excitement and energy in the resulting social interactions—whereas good experiences can lead to apathy or jealousy. Of course, Pip has no awareness of these complicated dynamics, but Dickens once more uses the innocent eyes of a child to offer the social commentary that external events and internal experiences do not necessarily align.

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"Let him go free? Let him profit by the means I found out? Let him make a tool of me afresh and again? Once more? No, no, no. If I had died at the bottom there…I'd have held to him with that grip, that you should have been safe to find him in my hold."

Related Characters: Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict) (speaker), Compeyson (a.k.a. the other convict)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

The convict Provis yells these lines at the soldiers to explain why he is wrestling with the other convict Compeyson. He wishes to prevent Compeyson from being free at any costs—even if it results in his arrest.

Provis could perhaps have escaped had he not been concerned with preventing Compeyson from doing so, yet he chooses vengeance over personal liberty. His exact reasons for doing so remain murky at this point. That Provis says, “profit by the means I found out” speaks to the way he discovered an exit from the Hulks and hints at how both convicts will “profit” economically after escaping. “Make a tool of me afresh and again” demonstrates that the two have a shared history, in which Provis has presumably been wronged before. Thus his act shows that attending to this history of wrongdoing is more important to him than forging his own future.

This passage is one of the many places in Dickens’ novel where moral justice conflicts with personal well-being. Provis has evidently opted for the former, but this sense of justice is itself muddled: a strange mixture of vengeance and ethics. When Provis cites his willingness to have “died at the bottom there” so long as Compeyson died with him, he morbidly predicts just how radically committed he will be to their equal demise. Dickens is a master of this type of foreshadowing, and it is worth paying attention throughout the text to how early abstract comments by characters take on a belated literal significance to the plot.

Book 3, Chapter 55 Quotes

For now my repugnance to [Provis] had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towards me with great constancy through a series of years. I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe.

Related Characters: Pip Pirrip (speaker), Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict), Joe Gargery
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

After Provis is imprisoned, Pip’s attitude toward his benefactor continues to become more favorable. He sees him, at last, in a positive, grateful light and without the critical lens of class consciousness that has previously clouded this view.

Whereas before, Provis’s lowly status had been a constant source of anxiety for Pip, here his weakness actually becomes a source of endearment. Though Pip describes his as a “hunted wounded shackled creature”—highlighting the qualities of subservience and weakness—these are no longer character criticisms. That Pip can still identify these qualities without holding a disposition of “repugnance” demonstrates how they are not inherently deplorable features, but rather become so only under an ungrateful eye. Pip transitions into the more grateful perspective, causing him to see that Provis has acted “affectionately, gratefully, and generously.”

Even more importantly, Pip is able to transfer this realization to his readings of other characters. His reference to Joe implies that this new view of Provis applies to people from his home and expresses a belief that he should not have treated Joe with such condescension. Dickens thus portrays a complete transformation in the way Pip thinks about his relationships: from valuing only class distinctions to finding fulfillment in genuineness and care.

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Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict) Character Timeline in Great Expectations

The timeline below shows where the character Provis (a.k.a. Abel Magwitch) (a.k.a. the convict) appears in Great Expectations. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1, Chapter 3
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Ambition and Self-Improvement Theme Icon
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...fear, Pip accidentally runs in the wrong direction and instead of reaching the Battery where the convict awaits him, he stumbles across another convict who swears at Pip and tries to strike... (full context)
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Pip, afraid the convict may not leave enough food to satisfy the young man he thinks he just met... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 5
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...about the house, to everyone's excitement. Everybody drinks together in good cheer. Pip observes that his convict has improved the party as everyone is entertained by anticipation of the convict chase. When... (full context)
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...out into the wet, cold, misty marshes while Pip, confessing to Joe that he hopes the convict s aren't found, wonders anxiously whether the convict will blame him for leading the soldiers'... (full context)
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Before they begin marching, Pip's convict notices Pip and Pip, shaking his head to try to convey his own innocence, is... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 6
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...the way back to the forge with Joe and Mr. Wopsle, Pip is relieved that the convict has taken the blame for his theft and does not confess the truth to Joe.... (full context)
Book 1, Chapter 19
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...creatures") and resolving to send them charitable gifts in the future. He dismisses memories of the convict . As he walks, Pip imagines that the cows on the marsh "wear a more... (full context)
Book 2, Chapter 39
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...balding man with a lower-class accent. To his shock, Pip realizes that this man is the convict he helped on the marshes. The convict calls Pip "noble Pip," commending Pip for acting... (full context)
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The convict reveals that he is Pip's patron. Pip is speechless with horror and nearly faints. The... (full context)
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The convict asks Pip to help him hide. He explains that he has sailed to London illegally,... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 40
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The next morning, Pip decides to tell his maids and the Temple watchman that the convict is his uncle. On his way out, he stumbles over an unidentified man crouching in... (full context)
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Over breakfast, Pip is disgusted by the convict 's crude table manners. He asks the convict about the man in grey clothes but... (full context)
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...to stay with Pip in London for good. He will disguise himself and be called Provis, though his real name is Abel Magwitch. He calls Pip "dear boy" and watches him... (full context)
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...news he's heard is true. Mr. Jaggers confirms the fact, though insists that Pip describe "Magwitch" as a man still living in New South Wales and "Provis" as a separate person... (full context)
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Pip buys Provis new clothes to wear but observes that Provis' past "gave him a savage air that... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 41
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Pip escorts Provis back to a room he has rented for him and returns to the Temple to... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 42
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At breakfast the next day, Pip and Herbert ask Provis to recount his past. Provis grew up as an orphan on the streets, committing petty... (full context)
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When Provis met him, Arthur was sick and terrified by hallucinations of an angry, broken-hearted woman all... (full context)
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When Provis and Compeyson were both eventually arrested for counterfeiting, Compeyson insisted on "separate defenses, no communication"... (full context)
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On the prison ships, Provis managed to strike Compeyson before escaping. Compeyson escaped too, thinking he was running away from... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 43
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Pip resolves to see Estella and Miss Havisham before he invites Provis to go abroad (on the pretence of shopping for more gentlemanly goods). Told at Richmond... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 45
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...Britain) tells Pip he wrote the note after overhearing in Newgate Prison that Compeyson knows Provis is in London and has had Pip's apartment watched. Pip connects this news to the... (full context)
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Immediately after hearing the news, Wemmick enlisted Herbert to arrange a hiding place for Provis. Herbert has taken Provis to rent a room in Clara's building by the river. Pip... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 46
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Pip and Herbert go upstairs to Provis' rooms, rented under the name of "Mr. Campbell". When Provis hears about the spy, he... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 47
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Pip passes several anxious weeks heartbroken by Estella and worried about Provis. Deeply in debt, Pip owes creditors but gives Provis' unopened pocketbook to Herbert to hold... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 50
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Pip returns to London, where Herbert tells Pip about a story he had heard from Provis the night before. About twenty years ago, Provis had a young, fiery, jealous wife who... (full context)
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Pip realizes that Provis is Estella's father and tells Herbert. (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 51
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...father is too. Pip can tell from Mr. Jaggers' surprise that he hadn't known about Provis. Still, Mr. Jaggers' tries to ignore Pip's news and goes right back to work with... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 52
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...Pip receives a letter from Wemmick insinuating that it might be possible to escape with Provis that Wednesday. Because Pip is still recovering from his burns, he and Herbert arrange for... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 54
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Wednesday morning, Pip, Herbert, and Startop pick up Provis in the boat and head upriver. The boys are anxious but Provis is calm and... (full context)
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Next morning, Pip, Herbert, Startop, and Provis row further upriver, meeting the scheduled steamer that Pip and Provis plan to flag down,... (full context)
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The customs officer gives Pip permission to accompany Provis back to London. Pip does his best to nurse Provis' wounds and comfort him. All... (full context)
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On the boat back to London, Provis advises Pip to leave him for "it's best as a gentleman" not to be publicly... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 55
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Back in London, Pip retains Mr. Jaggers for Provis' defense. Mr. Jaggers is mightily disappointed in Pip for not securing Provis' fortune ahead of... (full context)
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...sheepishly). Pip is grateful, but says he needs several months to decide—to continue to keep Provis company and to tend to "a vague something lingering in my thoughts." (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 56
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In the prison infirmary, Provis lies sick and wounded but uncomplaining. Pip stays by his side as long as he... (full context)
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...sentences together on one day. In court, Pip and a large audience of onlookers watch Provis stand among thirty-two other men and women condemned to death. The judge singles out Provis,... (full context)
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Pip writes petitions to every authority he can think of to appeal Provis' sentence, and hopes that Provis will die on his own before he is hanged. The... (full context)
Book 3, Chapter 57
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Pip is deep in debt. In the days after Provis' death, Pip falls deliriously ill. Two creditors come to his apartment to arrest him for... (full context)
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...Pip, not knowing how much Joe knows of his recent affairs, broaches the subject of Provis, Joe brushes it off, telling Pip that Biddy has convinced him not to dwell on... (full context)