One of the themes of ‘Great Expectations’ is the distinction of classes in Victorian society and their importance. In the Victorian times a gentlemen was thought to be educated, well mannered and have a high status in society. There were
lots of ways of deciphering which class a person was from by simply looking at or listening to them. Higher class people were thought to be superior to people in the lower classes. Dickens shows us in his book ‘Great Expectations’ it is not the way you dress or act that counts, it’s the qualities within. He explores this idea in his novel using Pip, Joe and Magwitch.
As a child Pip lost his parents and was therefore looked after by his sister Mrs Joe. Pip’s later behaviour and attitude is best understood by first looking at the troubles he experiences as a child. Pip was abused as a child by Mrs Joe who “brought him up by hand”. The reader will feel sympathy for Pip seeing how he is treated in a cruel way. The one good thing in Pip’s life was Joe. His father figure who ironically teaches him good manners, laughed at jokes and sharing ‘larks’. Throughout Pip’s childhood many incidents occur. When pip helps an escaped convict called Magwitch, he is forced to get a ‘file’ and ‘wittle’ for the desperate man. Ironically Pip does not realize his kindness will change the course of his life.
When Pip is invited to Satis house, to meet Ms Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella “to play”, he is surprised to be visiting a posh and genteel house that he has never seen before. He is aware of high society regards to the poor. Once he is there Pip is ashamed of who he is and for being poor because of Estella’s contempt for him. She calls him a “common labouring boy”. She points out his “coarse hands, thick boots” and she mocks him for crying. At this point Pip’s ambition is to become a typical Victorian gentleman so he can win Estella as he is attracted to her and so he can build up his self-esteem. When Pip is given the chance to become a gentleman, he embraces the opportunity.
On his return home Pip wants to improve his education by getting help by a local village girl called Biddy. Pip believes that to be a ‘gentlemen’ he must have a better education and make himself more presentable. Dickens is showing us that in the Victorian society you will have to be well spoken, dress well and attend social events. We see that when Pip turns into a gentlmen it changes his manners as well as turning him into a snob
However Dickens shows us that to be a true gentlemen you do not necessarily need to be just well mannered and have a high status in society. He challenges this idea by introducing us to the character Joe. Joe has always supported Pip and taught him manners. In today’s society we would have seen Joe as a true gentlemen because he is a kind, caring, self respecting and patient man. Dickens shows us a gentlemen necessarily wealthy. Dickens is supporting Samuel Smiles. He believes that a true gentlemen has to be “honest, truthful, upright, polite, temperate, courageous, self respecting and self helping”. Joe’s good lack of sophistication and social ease but his moral qualities make up for this. Joe is what Samuel Smiles would say a true gentlemen because he fits the criteria in the book.
Moreover, Pip’s expectations become reality and moves to London when Jaggers arrives. He learns the etiquette of life but Pip ironically becomes materialistic. He buys many expensive clothes and goes to exclusive clubs that come along with being a gentlmen. In addition he soon gets into debt, but he cares not mind. While in London Pip forgets three things- kindness, hard work and gratitude. Pip was taking everything for granted for example when Joe visits Pip in London he tells Pip how he truly feels about himself. Pip goes after him and he says, “I hurried out after him and looked for him in the neighbouring streets; but he was gone. ” Although Pip is living in a life of luxury he isn’t happy and is missing home, especially Joe. Dickens is showing us having money and living the life might not make you truly happy. Pip’s yearning to be a gentlemen only makes him unhappy.
Joe visits Pip but Pip’s behaviour is not gentlemanlike. Pip is too embarrassed to show Joe to his friends. He is trying to leave everything behind. He says, ” If I could have kept him away by money, I certainly would have paid money “. Even though Joe protected and assisted Pip through out his juvenile years. Pip is ironically embarrassed by him. He is a ungrateful person showing Joe no gratitude. Joe in his environment commonness is obvious and it makes Joe refer to Pip as “sir” which only emphasises Joes common status more. Joe changes the way he talks to Pip because he doesn’t feel good enough to see Pip and he feels unworthy. In addition to this Pip looks down on Joe by the way Joe speaks. Foe example he says, “architectooalooal”. Pip corrects him in his mind, “architecture”. He also looks down on how Joe acts, “by his clumsy manner of climbing upstairs”. Dickens shows us that how you speak and act marks you out on your social class.
When Pip finds out who the benefactor is he is shocked to discover it is Magwitch he says,” The repugnance with which I shrank from him…if he had been some terrible beast”. Magwitch has come back to see pip as a ‘gentlemen’ because he has dedicated his life to Pip ever since he has helped him. Dickens shows that Magwitch behaved like a gentlemen because every “guinea” he earned went towards Pip. “I lived rough you should live smooth”. Dickens shows us that Magwitch put Pip before himself, which shows he is a true gentlemen. He reveals a soft heart although he seemed aggressive in the beginning. He takes pleasures in Pip’s transformation. He is genuinely touched by the defencelessness and vulnerability of Pip as a child and by his kindness. Dickens challenges the Victorians view by showing you don’t need a high status in society to prove who you are it’s the heart which counts.
Magwitch return brings about a change in Pip’s attitude because if it wasn’t for Magwitch he wouldn’t be where he is today. Dickens is contrasting Pip and Magwitch. He wants to show although Pip is dressed he lacks the qualities of a gentlemen. Magwitch could not be a gentlemen in Pip’s eyes because he is a convict. However, like Joe he is a caring, kind and gentlemen because he gave Pip everything of his life. Pip’s pity for those less fortunate makes him think when he sees Magwitch cry, “But I was softened”. Pip’s always had a soft heart and feels guilty for the way he has been carrying on. He thinks about how selfish he has become. “in a word I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right”. Dickens is showing us Pip has no more expectations. Being wealthy didn’t make him any happier, but he is reluctant to admit he is wrong. The convict is no longer a stranger. Magwitch, like Joe, is undoubtfully a true gentlemen.
Furthermore Joe’s actions are those of a true gentleman because he paid off Pip’s debts which show he is a helpful and caring person. Joe is being considerate by helping Pip become debt free. It is ironic Joe helps Pip because Pip hasn’t been a considerate person to Joe but he helps Pip regardless. Joe’s heart is a true gentlemen due to the courageousness and consideration he has towards others. Dickens is showing us Joe has always been a proud man and has accepted his place in society. When Pip gets ill, Joe is the first one there. He nurses Pip back to full health, even though Pip treated him badly on his visits to London. Joe demonstrates his gentlemanly attributes once again being honest, patient and loving. Pip say,”O God bless this gentle Christian man”. Pip finally learns the error of his ways. He realizes the one and only person he ever wanted was Joe- his father figure. Dickens present Pip as a immature man, but by the end reveals him a true gentlemen.
In conclusion Pip apologizes for his mistakes and ingratitude toward others. When he visits Miss Havisham, he risks his life to save her. He does not care about money and outward appearance. He has forgotten his romantic delusions and has moved men. Pip says, “No man who was a true gentlemen at heart”. Dickens shows us that Pip always had the potential to become a gentlemen. Dickens felt delusion make you unhappy, and ambition does not bring in success. The point Dickens is trying to get across – it is not what you achieve but what kind of person you are. An older and wiser Pip becomes what Joe and Magwitch always wanted, a true gentlemen.