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    Dickens’ notion of what it means to be “a true gentleman in Great Expectations Essay

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    Great Expectations is a novel by Charles Dickens which tells the story of Pip, a blacksmith’s apprentice in his journey to fulfil his ambition to become a true gentleman. The characters that Pip encounters along the way demonstrate different aspects of what it means to be a gentleman or the reverse of one. It is in the bildungs roman genre and analyses the Victorian concept of social class and gentlemanly behaviour. In those times to be a gentleman meant to be wealthy and esteemed but Dickens views are very different from the normal stereotype.

    Very early on Pip displays his gentlemanly qualities, even at such a young age. For instance Pip meets a convict in the starting chapters, and agrees to provide food and a file to remove the leg iron from his leg. But when he gets home he is fighting a battle within himself between stealing from his sister and keeping his promise with the convict. However on the other hand he could be thought to have portrayed to have ungentle manlike qualities in this section because he does not actually do it to help Magwitch but does it because he is so terrified of Magwitch since he threatened to “cut out your and your liver.

    The reader can tell this because the phrase “mortal terror” is used by Pip three times in one paragraph. This use of repetition exemplifies the dread and foreboding that Pip is feeling. In the next chapter we meet Joe, Pip’s adopted father who as Pip says is a “mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow. ” This statement shows the reader Joe’s qualities. He has strong morals as seen when he scolds Pip for lying and is very protective over Pip. It also proves that Pip is able to see the good in people and not just focus on what people need to do to improve themselves.

    It is a change as he usually compares people to himself and how they should improve and change to comply with the “gentleman” stereotype. However the use of the phrase “Hercules in strength, and also in weakness” shows that Pip has not completely changed and is still looking at what is on the outside and not what people are like in the inside. Charles Dickens utilizes the word “Hercules” to show Joe to be an incredibly strong man in many things, not just in the physical aspect, but he also adds “and also in weakness.

    This displays the fact that Pip likes to see unlikeable things about people because it make him feel better about himself. This could be seen as an ungentlemanly thing to do, and he might do it because he does not feel confident about who he is as a person. Further on Pip is taken to see Miss Havisham for the first time, and more importantly to Pip, Estella. This is a key chapter because it is the first time that Pip questions himself and his upbringing given to him by Joe. He is ashamed of his upbringing in contrast to Estella’s house and superior way of living.

    This is the start of Pip’s journey because it is the first ever time that Pip has not been happy with his life and this is when he resolves to amend that. Miss Havisham orders Pip and Estella to play cards, but when asked what games he knows he says “only beggar my neighbour, miss”. Already Pip has shown himself to be common with his lack of knowledge on different games. A few lines before when Estella asks Pip, “What do you play boy? ” When she asks him, she uses the words to put across the meaning that she does not expect him to know more than one game with the words “what do you play? if someone wanted to know what different games someone else played they would ask “what games can you play? ” and the use of the plural in “games” would ask if you knew more than one game.

    The reader can tell that Estella obviously feels that she is superior to him in every way, even though she is about the same age as him, because she refers to him as “boy,” but Pip always puts “miss” at the end of his sentences when speaking to her. When Pip talks to her it’s like when a child would talk to an adult, the reader can see that Estella takes a lot of pleasure out of making him feel inferior to her.

    In this section Pip is fed by Estella and is described to give him the food and drink without looking at him “as insolently as a dog in disgrace” this treatment by Estella make the reader think back to when Pip brought out the food to Magwitch on the marsh and Magwitch is portrayed to eat it like a dog. This makes Pip feel like a criminal because of how he is treated by Estella and is brought down to Magwitch’s level.

    Towards the end of the chapter Pip is being let out by Estella but she notices that he has been crying, She asks him “why don’t you cry? and he answers “because I don’t want to” she then says to him “you do, you have been crying until you are half blind, and you are near crying again. ” She is incredibly condescending towards Pip and is making Pip feel terrible. Pip now feels that it is not appropriate to show emotions like that in front of someone but when on his own he lets all his emotions rush out. This shows that he feels that by letting out his feelings and showing his emotion it reveals a chink in his armour that he likes to keep hidden because otherwise he feels vulnerable and exposed.

    In the last paragraph Pip is feeling very miserable since his visit to Miss Havisham and is thinking about what happened there. He has now come to the conclusion that he is “a common labouring boy; that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; that I had fallen into a despicable habit of calling knaves jacks; that I was much more ignorant than I had considered myself last night; and generally that I was in a low-lived bad way. ” The reader can tell that by the way he says it that he is unhappy and sees so many things wrong with himself.

    It shows an element of Pip that is very self-conscious and awkward, for a normal person would not worry about what they call it knaves or jacks. You can see the change in Pip from before he was at Miss Havisham in how he describes himself; he thinks about all the things that are wrong with him according to Estella. In his mind Pip is not comfortable within himself any more and lists it using semi-colons like someone would list a shopping list. It is quite casual but it hurts him so much that it makes him want to completely change who he is just to conform with what Estella thinks a true gentleman is.

    It shows how ever much she upsets him it just makes Pip want to justify himself more to her and impress her. In the novel Pip meets Compeyson in the pub talking to Joe. He can tell that the convict knows Magwitch because he is carrying the file that Pip stole from Joe. This stirs up memories that Pip had tried to keep buried within himself because he is terrified that if he lets them out Magwitch and his “convict friend” will come back, but now his nightmares have come back into his life and the convict is here talking to Joe with Joe’s file in his hand: the one Pip stole from Joe.

    There also seems to be an element of guilt that Pip is feeling because he had executed the perfect crime when he stole the food and the file and even though he is possibly in fear of his life he is still worried that Joe will find him out. The reader can see that Pip is more scared of disappointing Joe than the convict actually hurting him This feeling is because Pip thinks of Joe as “Hercules” and believes that he is safe from everything because Joe will protect him. This displays Pip’s fear of disappointing Joe, and shows Pip to be bonded to Joe more strongly than he realised even if he does not admit it or realise it.

    It is in this section of the novel Pip realises just how ashamed he is of home. Before he thought of his parlour as “a most elegant saloon” and the forge as “the glowing road to manhood and independence” but now it is “all coarse and common. ” He then goes on to say that he “would not have Miss Havisham or Estella see it on any account”. This shows that he now sees his home through the eyes of Miss Havisham and Estella. The values that he has learned from them are in conflict with all he has been brought up with at home. In this part of the novel Pip has just been to Miss Havisham in search of Estella only to be told that she has gone abroad.

    Miss Havisham then asks him “Do you feel that you have lost her? ” she asks this with “such malignant joy” that Pip finds himself at a loss of words. Afterwards Pip is walking down the high street and he “wonders what he would buy when he is a gentleman. ” He automatically assumes that a gentleman is someone that has money and material wealth. This demonstrates that he has listened to everything that Estella and Miss Havisham have said and represent and he now believes that you have to live in a grand house and be exceedingly rich. Moreover in that sentence he says “when he is a gentleman.

    The use of the word “when” rather than “if” shows that in his mind he knows that he will become a gentleman. When he is in his home village his association with Miss Havisham and Estella gives him added confidence but ironically when he is with them they undermine his confidence. A few chapters later it says in the novel that “I became conscious of a change in Biddy. Her shoes came up to the heel, her hair grew bright and neat, her hands were always clean. ” But he then goes on to say “she was not beautiful – she was common and could be not like Estella. ” This is another example of what was said earlier on.

    It shows how Pip manages to see the good in Biddy but it shows how he goes on to compare her to someone else. However there is a change as of before Pip compared Joe to himself and his stereotype of a perfect gentleman; now he is comparing Biddy to Estella. The reader can tell from the extract above that Pip is only just noticing Biddy for what she is really like because it says “I became conscious of a change in Biddy” and “her hair grew bright” this seems to suggest that to him she was not like that before which shows that the change has not actually happened to Biddy, but to Pip.

    This is not at all a gentlemanlike characteristic because he is just appreciating her for her similarities to Estella, not for what she is truly like. A couple of chapters later on in the novel Pip is about to leave for London thanks to a mysterious benefactor. As he leaves Joe and Biddy both throw an old shoe after him for good luck. “I walked away at a good pace, thinking it was easier to go than I had supposed it would be, and reflecting that it would never have done to have and old shoe thrown after the coach, in sight of all the High Street. I whistled and made nothing of going”.

    But soon another side of Pip is revealed as he feels very emotional at the fact that he has to leave the village that he has lived in for his whole life and is conscious of his own ingratitude. These emotions show a caring and thoughtful side of Pip that we have never seen before. There are clearly conflicting sides to his personality. Later on in the same chapter pathetic fallacy is used by Dickens in the form of the mist that hung in the village on the day that he leaves. This probably represents the uncertainty and doubt that Pip is experiencing at the time, and the fact that his thoughts are clouded.

    Finally the lack of people around him at that time makes him realise the complexity of his feelings. Further on in the novel Pip is now in London and has just received a letter from Biddy saying that Joe is coming to London and would like to meet Pip there. This is exactly what Pip does not want to happen; he has just got to London, trying to build that reputation he has been after for nearly all his life, and he finds out that his adopted father the blacksmith is coming to London. The thing he fears the most is being seen with Joe by Drummle, but fortunately Joe was not coming to Hammersmith so would not fall in Bentley Drummle’s way.

    This is one more example of Pip being embarrassed to be seen with Joe, whether by Bentley Drummle or Miss Havisham and Estella. A little before, we are told that Pip would try to keep Joe away at any cost: “If I could have kept him away by paying money I certainly would have paid money. ” Joe has brought Pip up for most of his childhood and was probably the only one to show him kindness and friendship. For Pip to pay him back by being ashamed to be seen with him shows the same ingratitude that he berated himself for in Chapter 18.

    To this extent Pip still falls short of gentlemanly behaviour. In Chapter 39 Pip discovers that Magwitch rather than Miss Havisham is his mysterious benefactor after all. At first he is appalled that a former convict has been the means for him to become a “gentleman”. “Yes, Pip, dear boy, I’ve made a gentleman on you … I lived rough, that you should live smooth; I worked hard that you should be above work. ” Magwitch understands that he can never be accepted as a gentleman himself, and yet in trying to make Pip one instead he is in fact displaying the true qualities of a gentleman.

    This is a pivotal chapter as it is no longer Pip only as the narrator, who admits his faults. It is the young Pip making the realisation that “I could never, never, never, undo what I had done”, and the reader is now aware of the two voices starting to join into the one voice of a now more mindful, and likeable Pip. He has finally understood that he has been misled by his own assumptions about Estella. He also understands that Magwitch is a better man than he appears and a much better man than the swindler Compeyson. When Magwitch is in prison Pip writes petitions to men in authority.

    He says “I was writing out a petition to the home secretary, setting forth my knowledge of him, and how it was that he had come back for my sake. ” Also if Pip was discovered to have helped Magwitch to escape he would have been in great danger for the reason that the law could see him to be aiding and abetting a known convict. But it is a sign that Pip’s aspirations have changed that he is willing to take that risk just to help out someone who is in trouble when previously he did not even want to be seen with Joe. The novel indicates that Pip is becoming ever closer to a true gentleman.

    Towards the end of the chapter Magwitch dies and the way that Dickens describes his death inspires the sentiment of pathos in the reader. “With a last faint effort, which would have been powerless but for my yielding to it, and assisting it, he raised my hands to his lips. Then he gently let it sink upon his breast again, with his own hands lying on it. ” The words “faint” and “powerless” give the feeling of so little strength and make the reader can see him lying there, propped up by Pip, eyes closed as if he was in a deep, deep sleep.

    Finally the punctuation, many full stops and commas, gives the impression of a feeble and fragile old man who needs to stop constantly to get his breath and shows that he is very close to the end of his life. At the end of the chapter there is a line from Pip that sums up the whole of Pip’s attempt to become a true gentleman and is probably the moment that he actually achieves this aim. He says, ” I was one day enlightened by the reflection, that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but in me.

    This is key because he is finally admitting that it is him that has been wrong and it seems that he has finally got over his self-importance. The word “reflection” seems to suggest that he has at long last just looked at himself in a mirror and has seen what he has become. It has been staring him in the face and screaming at him just to notice what he is like to other people. Pip seemed determined to shut it out, but the death of Magwitch has shocked him into opening his eyes and to see what he has grown into. It is Joe who displays gentlemanly merits from very early on, particularly in his treatment of Pip.

    He is a very honest, modest and kind man. At the point in the novel when Orlick and Mrs Joe are having a heated argument and Mrs Joe is becoming more upset by the minute, Joe steps in to defend her and forcibly tells Orlick, “I tell you, let her alone! ” The use of the exclamation mark tells you that Joe is not going to let Orlick stand there and hurt someone else’s feelings. A little further on In the chapter Joe is to be found “sharing a pot of beer in a peaceable manner” with Orlick as if nothing has happened. This shows his ability to forgive and forget.

    He has put all that behind him now and does not hold a grudge because it is not in his peaceable nature and would damage their working relationship. This is an admirable and gentlemanly trait for some one to have. When Pip is leaving for London Joe demonstrates to Pip that he will never abandon him and will always be there for him. He says that no compensation will make up for losing Pip, because “he is my friend and companion. ” This gives you an idea what Pips friendship means to him. It also shows us that Joe is extremely steadfast and not at all fickle, which Pip sometimes is.

    Another quality that this episode brings to life is that Joe is not going to be moved by any amount of money. When Joe is visiting Pip in London he tries to behave like a gentleman by wearing a hat, but only manages to look ridiculous. Pip tries to take it away from him, saying, “‘Give me your hat. ‘ But Joe, wouldn’t hear of parting with that piece of property” for he doesn’t like to part with it. Joe’s gentlemanly traits are internal and moral rather than external and conventional. Herbert Pocket and his father Mathew are upheld in the novel as true gentlemen, who make their own way in life and do not rely on others.

    When Pip asks Herbert for advice in the proper and courteous way to behave when you are someone’s guest, Herbert replies, “With pleasure, though I venture to prophesy that you will need very few hints. ” This is very gentlemanly of Herbert because he is complimenting Pip on his manners without being condescending. He also does it in such a way that their hosts do not notice and according to Pip “he offered these suggestions in such a friendly way that we both laughed and I scarcely blushed”. The word “suggestions” tells us that he is not commanding Pip to do it, which would make it even more embarrassing but quietly advise what to do.

    The way in which Herbert teaches Pip to be a gentle man is very different from the way in which Pip attempted to teach Joe. While Pip was often quite condescending towards Joe when he taught him and only did it in the first place for his own benefit, so was actually quite manipulative. Later on in the novel Pip has told Herbert about Magwitch but Herbert does not rush out to the nearest police station but accepts Pip and “received me with open arms, and I had never before felt so blessedly, what it is to have a friend.

    Hebert has this incredible talent to make everyone around him feel good and happy to be friends with him. The phrase “open arms” signifies that Herbert doesn’t have any qualms about helping Pip in whatever he needs to do, even though he is helping a known offender. This demonstrates Herbert’s bravery, which for Dickens is an important quality of a gentleman. Matthew Pocket says, “No man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentle man in manner.

    He goes on to say that “‘no varnish can hide the grain of wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself. ‘” Thus Dickens puts his idea across that was so controversial in the Victorian times, that a true gentleman is what is on the inside and what his actions are, not how wealthy he is or what his family heritage is. The egotistical and self-centred Drummle is exactly like the man in the metaphor described by Matthew Pocket. For instance he talks about Estella as a “peerless beauty”, but he does not think about anything apart from what is on the exterior.

    In the same chapter Pip describes him to have a “blockhead confidence in his money and family greatness. ” This means that he is so confident in his affluence and family prominence that he assumes that he is untouchable and that he can get away with anything he wants to. He is the complete opposite of Dickens idea of what makes a true gentleman. Dickens’s view is that to find a true gentleman you have look at what is on the inside, not what is on the outside or obvious to the eye. This is the main lesson Pip has learnt in the course of the novel Great Expectations.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Dickens’ notion of what it means to be “a true gentleman in Great Expectations Essay. (2017, Oct 05). Retrieved from

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