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Gentility in Great Expectations

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In his numerous literary works, Dickens strong sense of right and wrong, and his recognition of the many injustices present in Victorian Society are clearly displayed. There is no better an example of these strong set of ideals then those portrayed in his novel, Great Expectations, which tells the story of Pip, a young boy who is initially fooled into believing that material wealth is a substitute for the real moral values a gentleman should posses. However, through the many trials and tribulations he is forced to go through, he is finally able to identify what it means to be a "true gentleman", one that has acquired true wealth and value. It is only then that he is able to see the real meaning behind Matthew Pocket's wise words, that:

"No man was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was since the world began, a true gentleman in manner." (Page 175)

In Dickens' novel, society's idea of a gentleman is perceived as someone of great affluence and breeding, who did not necessarily posses the moral values and graces a true gentleman should have. After his initial visit to Satis House, Pip was infatuated by Estella's beauty, wealth, and self-importance. He allowed himself to be degraded by her scornful references to his "coarse hands," and "thick boots," not realizing at this point that these factors are unimportant on the route to becoming a true gentleman. At that very moment, he deludes himself into believing that if he were to meet Estella's interpretations of gentlemanly conduct, that she would regard him as her equal. Unfortunately, he completely fails to recognize the true moral values present in Joe and Biddy, and is attracted instead by a fantasized version of Miss Havisham's and Estella's lifestyles. He sees his visit to Satis House as the first link in the long chain of events, which will lead to his eventually becoming a gentleman.

Dickens leaves the reader with no doubt that position and rank were major contributory factors as to how a person was regarded in Victorian society. He portrays this with the changed attitudes of the tradesmen towards the gentleman Pip, who no longer look out of the window whilst they are serving him. It is also amusing to witness Trabb's extravagant attempts to satisfy Pip's every need, a stark contrast to the manner he treats his own boy. Another change that has taken place in Pip is his inability to perceive Pumblechook as the "Impostor" he so readily recognized him to be as a boy. What he would have once seen to be the fawnings of a "bogus humbug", he know observes to be the "sensible, practical good hearted" conversation of a "kind fellow". He readily accepts the endless handshaking and congratulations from his Uncle as an indication of his ever-rising status in society. We see more falsity on Pumlechook's part later on in the novel, regarding his patronizing and nauseatingly forgiving nature towards a Pip who has declined in fortune.

We see also how Pip's gain in affluence is an automatic guarantee in his ascension up the social ladder. He now feels embarrassed by his long time friends and confidants, Biddy and Joe, feeling they would no longer fit in to the social group he has chosen to become part of. Therefore, he comes to the conclusion that it would be in Joe's best interests to refine his manners, and asks Biddy to cultivate his social airs and graces, never giving a second thought to Joe's needs and wishes. He completely fails to see his rude and patronizing tone when asking Biddy to cultivate Joe's manners, in order for him to be less "open to Estella's reproach." He has become so disillusioned by his own expectations that he seems to have lost touch with one of the best friends he could ever wish to have. He snobbishly assumes that because Joe is a workingman, he will lack the pride that will prevent anyone taking him "out of a place he is competent to fill and fills with respect" (page 146). And as if that were not bad enough, he has the audacity to even think that Biddy may be envious of his supposed "rise" in society, so deceived is he by his aspirations, and confident of the wisdom of his superior opinions. It was almost as if snobbishness and repugnance to those less fortunate were seen as attributes of gentility.

This attitude was not only restricted to "gentlemen", as the younger Estella more than displayed to us, feeling herself by far the superior of the "common laboring boy". Not only was she proud and conceited, but insulting and cruel, not what one could possibly call genteel traits. She took obvious delight in addressing the young Pip as "Boy," further displaying the rudeness of one supposedly belonging to the gentlefolk.

However, at the beginning of his fortune, Pip is little better than his beloved, feeling disdain towards his neighbors:

"...sublime compassion for the poor creatures who are destined to go there, Sunday after Sunday, all their lives through, to lie obscurely at last amongst the low green moulds." (Page 143)

Dickens is also highly critical of the criminal justice system of his time. Apparently, not even this just institution could escape the false notions of class and gentility. Both Judge and Jury alike are swindled into believing that the older, hardened, "ragged" Magwitch corrupted Compeyson, the young "gentleman" with no criminal record. He tells how Magwitch was condemned before the trial even began, because of his villainous appearance, while the public school educated Compeyson was able to manipulate the trial, receiving seven years imprisonment as opposed to Magwitch's fourteen. This provides yet another example of Dickens' message not to form an opinion of someone based on external appearances alone.

In the poor and deprived world Dickens portrays in his novel, society fawns upon the rich and exploits the poor. Due to wholly superficial reasons, such as his "coarse voice, laborers tobacco and jack knife," Magwitch will always be branded a criminal by Victorian society. The gentlemanly Pip is repelled and disgusted at his first encounter with Magwitch at Barnard's Inn. He is also utterly horrified by the "uncouth, noisy, and greedy" table manners the convict displayed, likening him to a "hungry dog." Instead of being grateful to Magwitch once he finds out that he is in fact his true benefactor, he is instead sickened by the news that a convict has fueled his whole lifestyle. While he is able to so precisely pinpoint all of Magwitch's faults and failings, he finds it harder to find fault with Bentley Drummle, who



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