Humanitarian Spirit Extinguished

Tatiana Kuzmowycz, English 156, Brown University, 2004

Jack Maggs, a former criminal, searches for the son he never had, Henry Phipps.  Maggs became Phipps' benefactor after losing his own child through abortion. His search for Phipps leads him to his son's next door neighbor, Percy Buckle, a grocer, who hires him as a footman him despite his lack of references and prior experience.  A writer, Tobias Oates, enchanted by Magg's intriguing character, hypnotizes him. Under hypnosis, Magg's reveals his criminal past not only in words, but through the marks and scars covering his back.  Oates discloses the true character of Maggs to Buckle, yet Buckle does not release Maggs from work in his household.  Rather, Buckle sees this as a second chance opportunity for Maggs who has already suffered sufficiently for his crimes.  Oates antagonizes Buckle's decision, unable to comprehend how an individual can knowingly harbor a criminal in their household.  Percy illustrates his good-hearted nature, and adopts Lockeian philosophy by allowing Maggs to start anew, with a blank slate.  This is a dangerous decision on Percy's behalf because Maggs may murder again, and Percy is illegally harboring a criminal.

"Well, we saw a page of his history," said the little grocer stubbornly. "Whatever his offence, anyone with half a heart can see that he has paid the bill. I could not send him back for more."

"I'm sure you don't wish to return with him to your household?"

Mr. Buckle became silent.

"To be robbed? Or murdered in your bed?"

Percy Buckle brought his mild eyes up to meet those of the young host's. "He has not hurt me yet." [97]

Buckle's humanitarian spirit changes drastically as the novel continues. Buckle now sets out to hide from Maggs the one thing he truly desires: his son, Henry Phipps. He informs Henry that Maggs is searching for him, in hopes that he will choose not to see or meet with Maggs. Percy's tone, considerably different, and his eyes, no longer mild, reflect a change in his relationship with Maggs: "There are people like Jack Maggs who see me, Sir, and they pity me, or make mock of me...And if I am to be humiliated in my own home, well then, that person will be punished." [295]


What has changed Buckle's opinion of Maggs? What role is jealousy and shame playing in this changed perception? On page 97, Buckle states that Maggs has not hurt him yet. By the end of the novel is this statement still valid?

Is part of Buckle's changed opinion due to Mercy? She states later on: "The master had seemed, in the shadow of Jack Maggs, a plain little thing, but in the quiet that followed the latter's departure she saw what a false perception that had been. Mr. Buckle was her life, her safety. Her association with Jack Maggs had humiliated him to a degree she had been too intoxicated to see at the time" (277) What was it that intoxicated her and caused her to falsely perceive Maggs? How does Maggs take advantage of Buckle and of Mercy?

Is Buckle in any way like Pip from Dicken's Great Expectations? Buckle, after all, does harbor and aid a criminal for some time, much like Pip. Pip's innocent view of the world is tainted by his great expectations, but what is it that taints Buckle? Are there any similarities in their dynamic character changes? What weakness do Buckle and Pip share?

Socioeconomically, Buckle has the upper hand over Maggs. How does Maggs threaten Buckle? Does Buckle feel challenged by Magg's more interesting, complex past? There are several instances where Buckle is describes as plain and small. Does his simple character work for or against him?


Carey, Peter. Jack Maggs. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Australia Carey OV Jack Maggs Leading Questions

Last modified 1 March 2004