“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens Analysis Essay

In this essay I am looking at Charles Dicken’s novel Great Expectations (pub.1861) and trying to answer the question of who in this novel is the actual “gentle man”. In this I am taking the word “gentleman” to mean as the oxford english dictionary puts it:

“A chivalrous, well bred man”

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However I feel that a slight alteration is needed due to the fact that to be a “gentleman” you don’t need to be well bred, mearly to behave chivalrously yourself or this immediately marks down the people of lower class backgrounds seemingly unfairly.

Obviously the title of being the “gentleman” of the novel does seem to fall upon Pip, the man who was actually bought up to be one under the orders of the benefactor Abel Magwitch. Though it is true he was bought up to be the proper Victorian gentleman with characteristics that were approved of by the upper/middle classes. We are able to look at this from a totally different, 21st Century viewpoint which, due to social and economic upheavals, is radically different to the Victorians’ .

In the novel Pip demonstrates himself to be, in my opinion, morally unsound several times deeming him not to become the proper gentleman that he might otherwise be. The shame he openly shows when reminded of his working class background is one issue against him. When having a rowing class on the Thames the instructor tells Pip he has “the arm of a blacksmith”. Although the man clearly could not know that he was originally a blacksmith Pip takes it as an insult and is extremely ashamed of this because he thinks he might lose social status among his friends. This just shows how much he dislikes being reminded of the working class and who he used to live with which is a rather distasteful act of snobbery.

Another of these incidents that demonstrate the ashamedness he holds of his past comes when Joe comes to visit him for the first time. As Pip says even before he arrives:

“If I could have paid money to keep him away I would”.

This again shows how he is extremely ashamed of Joe and that he might embarrass Pip in front of his friend by acting in a manner seeming inappropriate to Pip’s middle class friend Herbert. He therefore wants Joe, his old friend who used to look after him, to stay away. Rather than be very happy to see him he feels “disturbed” and “mortified” which shows how he has taken a change for the worse in becoming snobbish as oppose to gentlemanly.

When Joe does actually arrive Pip confirms his distaste at Joe’s rough working class habits with phrases such as:

“He dropped so much more than he ate and pretended he hadn’t dropped it, that I was heartily glad when Herbert left us for the city”.

This shows just how appalled Pip was by Joe that he did not want his friend Herbert to stay and see more of Joe’s, in Pips opinion, working class and embarrassing habits. This also shows just how rapidly Pip descends into being snobbish towards others forgetting his own working class background. Pip has only been away a matter of months yet he already regards Joe with distaste that allows the reader to see how he is not as nice as one might expect the hero of a story to be.

Pips behaviour is made to seem even worse when you are shown how Herbert who is from the same part of society as Pip finds Joe perfectly acceptable and “held his hand out” showing how treats Joe as he might some one from a higher class who had come round to dinner. This goes to show that it is not everyone who find working class people bad so it is really Pips rather unkind self centered personality that makes him find Joe disagreeable.

Another example of Pip’s ungentlemanly conduct happens later in the novel when his benefactor is revealed to be the escaped convict he aided many years ago as a child. However how you would expect a gentleman to act towards a person who has done so much for them and how Pip acts are very different. Rather than thanking him wholeheartedly for helping him out of being part of the working class, Pip is disgusted by him and the idea that he received help from a convict making the funds into dirty money. Before the revelation of the benefactor’s identity Pip had spent the money like water however afterwards he “cannot bring” himself to spend the “rascal’s money”

Pips thoughts on Magwitch are well summed up by this section:

“The abhorrence in which I held the man, the dread I had of him, the repugnance with which I shrank away from him, could not have been exceeded if he were some terrible beast”.

The fact that Pip is disgusted that his money has been made and given to him from an outcast as opposed to the person he thought had given it to him, the upper class Miss Havisham, shows again how he has become even more snobbish. He is at a loss for words to describe how he feels when his benefactor is revealed so horrified is he which is extremely unkind seeing how Magwitch has tried to be as nice as possible to Pip.

Even when Pip gets over his initial reaction he still wants to get Magwitch out of the country least anyone finds out that his money has come from a lower class criminal and decide that he is not suitable to socialise with them any more. Whereas we know that if these people were truly his friends like Herbert, they would not mind what his social background was.

When Pip first receives the vast amounts of money from Magwitch he goes and spends far more, and puts himself into “increasing debt”. This would not be so bad if it were not for the fact that his “lavish” lifestyle “corrupts” Herbert’s way of living. This, even if done unwittingly, is a particularly unkind thing to do because the debt fills Herbert with “anxiety” and “regret” which, without Pip’s influence, he would not have had.

However, with all the things against him being a gentleman he does show at certain points, more towards the end, that he is not such a self centred person, as he would originally seem. When Magwitch is awaiting trial and is in the hospital due to his wound from the ship that ran him and Compeyson over Pip diligently visits him “every day for a short while”. This shows that Pip as he gets older and more mature starts to realise that he cannot just ignore who he is and who he was as a child. This is a kind gentlemanly thing to do as it shows he does now feels compassion for the person that he was once revolted at.

Another example of how he gets more gentlemanly towards the end of the novel is seen when he finally goes back to Joe and Biddy for the first time without an important reason. This shows also again how he has managed to accept his background and to stop pretending that it does not exist nor need any attention what so ever on his part.

So if Pip is not the gentleman of the novel, who is? Let us first consider Pips friend and compatriot, throughout the adult part of his life, Herbert pocket. Herbert is a far more eligible candidate for the title of gentleman of Great expectations throughout the novel he shows good qualities to his personality. Dickens himself makes Herbert out to be an “amiable and cheerful young man” showing that he is a kindly person from first impressions you get of him.

The way that throughout the novel he remains a loyal and trusted friend of Pip is very much a quality expected in a gentleman. When Pip has first arrived in London and is told to stay with Herbert, said host treats Pip very kindly and rather than, as Pip goes on to do later, scorn Pip for his working class habits helps him to correct himself in his table manners “with pleasure”.

This loyalty is further demonstrated when Pip, having had his arm burnt trying to save Miss Havisham, is carefully tended by Herbert even though this takes a lot of time and effort on Herbert’s part to keep Pips injuries “constantly dressed” and give him “cooling drinks”. Pip describes him as being the “kindest of nurses” Also the fact that Herbert puts his friends health before his job shows that he is not bound by money as Pip find himself.

Herbert’s fealty is also shown when he finds a letter from Pip, about going to Satis House, which he thinks strangely. He takes the trouble along with Startop to try and see when he could get down to check up on Pips welfare instead of just assuming that Pip was, as he said, going for a normal visit which is what most people would probably do. Then rather than being stopped by the fact that the coach has gone, he follows in a “post-chaise” and arrives just in time to save Pip from the muderous hands of Orlick. The way in which he goes out of his way just to check that Pip is alright reinforces the point that he puts others first is very much fitting to his altruistic personality.

Herbert even helps Pip with the attempt to smuggle Magwitch out of the country because Pip’s arm is still “too badly burnt” to row. This may seem a trivial thing to do but if you think that in the Victorian era, helping a convict or criminal to escape the law could result in imprisonment the you see that Herbert is taking a huge risk in doing this favour for Pip showing just how far he is prepared to go to help others.

His acceptance to help Pip again shows how he does not find, as Pip does, the down and outs of society completely unacceptable. This shows that Herbert must be far more happy and secure in his life than Pip who has to worry about how his social status might be affected. Herbert is more mature than Pip in this way because he can see that if the person truly is his friend then they aren’t likely to think any less of him if he socialises with the lower class.

Herbert’s amiable character again shines through when you hear about his arranged marriage to the relatively poor Clara. Though he could have disliked her for being poor, he does not. Instead he gets on with her extremely well and continually demonstrates his loyalty to her when he talks of her with things like:

“The poor dear will be terribly lonely”.

His affection is also shown in the way that he puts his “embracing arm” around her and in the way that they call each other “darling”.

However, Herbert too is not without his flaws. His lack of action when Pip and himself were running very far into debt is one of his faults. When they have their sessions to work out their debts Herbert looks at Pips ways of making the debts seem less than they really were with “admiration”. Furthermore, he describes Pip as a “resourceful fellow” when all he has actually done is left a margin that only makes them spend more money than before.

To have done the righteous and kind thing he should have stopped acting like Pip and spending large amounts of money which would in turn influence Pip to stop spending quite as much. By not doing this, he lets Pip stay on the track that eventually leads to his ruin and arrest for debt. I think that had Herbert have intervened then the novel could have a very different outcome. Pip might not have become ruined and he would have had a better life. However even though Pip is ruined Herbert still finds him work and helps to “pay his debts” that Pip was not yet able to pay back to the creditors

So Herbert is a potential candidate for being the true gentleman of the novel, however he and Pip do not stand as the only gentlemen. One can also consider that Mr Joe Gargery is a gentleman. His actions throughout the book are kind and considerate towards Pip and others. For a most obvious starting point, you can immediately see his kind nature in the way that he has let Pip, his wife’s brother, come and live with them. He could have simply said that he would not allow it and that Pip could not live with them but he does not. While Pip is residing there for the first part of the book Joe is Pip’s best friend who he confides in who Pip describes as:

“My equal, no more than a larger species of child”.

Joe also tries to help Pip and to get him out of trouble with his sister when he is able to. The way he stands between Pip and Mrs Joe as a sort of “fence” is very much a protective act to help Pip he “did as much as he could to keep Pip and the tickler in sunders”. He also takes “many a tickle” due to trying to stop Mrs Joe from beating Pip with the “tickler” stick.

Joe also supports Pip in his education by looking at what Pip has done at school and encouraging him to better himself by telling Pip that what he can write is “astonishing”. This is possibly because Joe is not educated at all and cannot read or write and so does not want Pip to be as uneducated as he is. Joe’s desire to be educated is much unlike other supposed gentleman like Drummle who seems to feel that he does not need education because he is already a gentleman due to his background of nobility. Joe does eventually learn to read and write from Biddy something which he is very proud of because he has finally managed to do something he has always wanted to do and looks on his letters with unbounded satisfaction once they are finished

When Mrs Joe is grievously injured, Joe “nurses” her and tries to make her happy even though when she wasn’t brain damaged she was extremely unkind to Joe most of the time calling him a “fool” and in the way she “knocked his head against the wall” and “beat” him. This is a very kind thing to do as he could have simply born the grudge and made her life a misery.

Joe is also quite shy especially, it would appear to people who he considers to be better in some way be it wealth or position. When talking to Miss Havisham this is most prominently shown in the way that he talks , rather than to Miss Havisham who is asking him questions, but to Pip. He starts nearly every sentence with phrases such as:

“You know, Pip”

“Which I meantersay Pip”

This shows that he does indeed fell uncomfortable talking directly to Miss Havisham and so to answer her questions he talks to Pip instead to avoid direct speech with her. Pip however finds this “most aggravating” due to the way it makes Joe seem stupid and then due to his association with Joe, him seem stupid which embarrasses him greatly in front of Miss Havisham and Estella.

Joe’s embarrassment to be with those sorts of people is made almost definite when he comes to London for the first time. There he finds it very difficult to talk to pip because he feels Pip is now his superior. He persists in addressing Pip as “Sir” and behaves in a manner that shows his embarrassment and unease by the way he “dropped so much food” and that “he held onto his hat and wouldn’t hear of parting with it.

Joe’s kindness to Pip however never stops and near the end of the book, with Pip almost in prison for debt Joe helps him out of the trouble by bailing him out. To do this however Joe uses all the money that he has saved up and was going to pay for his wedding to Biddy with. When you think that it took him a very many years to save it all up and he uses it to release his brother in law who has not visited him for years it is a very benevolent act. Also after this Joe stays with Pip and nurses him back to health which would have cost him yet more money for the time that he could have been in the forge, working.

Though he may seem at first glance a spiteful evil character due to his background Magwitch is actually a possibility of being the gentleman. First, look at what he is and how you immediately judge him for it. A convict could have done a number of things and even before you know what he did, you judge his personality due to the fact he is a criminal. In fact, people who were down on the list for transportation could have done a large manner of things from stealing cucumber plants to manslaughter. This must be taken into account when looking at Magwitch so you do not immediately go on first impressions.

Magwitch is obviously quite a nice person at heart though the encounters you have with him in the novel seem to show him as a nasty person. However, if you put it in the context that you were a convict on the run and your only chance of freedom was a little boy you would probably try what Abel did and scare him enough to help you. Though to be truthful telling the child his “heart and liver will be ripped out and roasted” is perhaps slightly too vicious.

The reason that Magwitch was transported to Australia was because he had partaken in illegal activities with the likes of “forgery” and “swindling” however in the book he tries to convince you that he was simply following orders from Compeyson who he said “took the profits {of a job} but let another man in for”. However if you look at Magwitch before Compeyson he had already been to jail for “thieving” showing he is not quite the nice man influenced by Compeyson into being bad he claims to be. However, he does seem to better himself while in Australia and manages to make a huge amount of money through “honest work”. This does show that he betters himself before the end rather than just continue to be the dishonest person he originally was.

His most obvious and extraordinarily kind gesture is to give next to all his money to Pip which does seem a tad generous seeing as Pip only gave him some “whittles” and a file, things he probably would have been able to steal from the village anyway. However give it away he does as he says to Pip:

“For every pound I made I swore that pound would got to you”.

The question you must ask is why does Abel Magwitch so want to make Pip a gentleman? To answer this you must look at Magwitch’s past, when he was a criminal working for Compeyson. When they were arrested and tried it is Compeyson who turns up at the courtroom looking a “gentleman” and is able to address the courtroom in a formal manner with educated “speeches”. Magwitch believes that because of this

he gets the far heftier punishment from the judge. Therefore when he has his money he is too old to become a gentleman and so gives it to, the only kind person to him, Pip to become a gentleman and live the life that Magwitch was unable to.

However, when looking at this you cannot simply presume that this is done through generosity. Is it actually the greed to see Pip a gentleman through his doing? I personally believe that it is a bit of both that he did not do it all for greed or all from sheer generosity. You can definitely see the greed side of it in the way that he repeatedly exclaims “why look at this” and then upon examining the piece will say “That’s a gentleman’s I hope”. He wants to make sure its all the way he wants it to be as opposed to how it might be.

So you can see that although Magwitch can be seen from either perspective of a good or bad character he tends, in my opinion, to be not quite the gentlemen some people say he is just because of giving away money.

Now I shall look at a person who would be considered by many at this sort of time to be a gentleman and this is Bentley Drummle. He has a very different background to Pip but they end up, due to the money given to Pip, in the same level of society. The first time you meet Bentley Drummle and he is described as “idle, proud, niggardly, reserved and suspicious”. This immediately makes you draw the conclusion about the sort of person he is this continues with him being described later as things like “spoilt” and “sulky”. All these build up a character who is snobbish, due to his noble background, and nasty, probably due to the fact he has more money than sense, and so gets bored extremely quick.

You can see that he has a negative effect on the people that he interacts many times with Pip, Herbert and Startop all describing him by these sorts of adjectives above. You can especially see how much Pip hated him because Pip s meant to be writing the book after the story of it has finished so you see how in the way that he stole Estella from Pip and in his general attitude that Pip is one who really hates him. However you must think that if Pip is supposed to be writing it in hindsight he would try to make Bentley Drummle seem as nasty a person as possible due to his hate of him at that time of his life. Pip actually confirms this by saying:

“It is impossible to turn this leaf of my life without putting Bentley Drummle’s name upon it; or I would very gladly”.

This shows that throughout the novel he would not have written about Drummle much and that when he has to he does so as to put him in the worst possible light.

For this reason, it must not be instantly taken for granted that Drummle is such a desultory character as Pip describes him as.

However, ignoring for the moment the possibility of the above argument being true for these descriptions, you can see that Drummle is a very unmotivated person in his studies due to the way that he “opens each book as if the writer had done him a personal injury”. He also behaves in an “insolent ” manner to many around him due possibly to his feeling of superiority due to position and wealth. In fact Dickens emphasises this in the way that Mr Jaggers likes him even though he can see that Drummle is a “blotchy, sprawly, sulky fellow” this is because of Dickens’ dislike of the law and lawyers (for a good example of this see Bleak House) so the fact that a lawyer thinks Drummle is a good fellow is surely a sign he is not a particularly pleasant character.

Last of the “gentlemen” is the clerk for Jaggers the lawyer, Mr Wemmick. Wemmick can clearly be seen throughout the book to be Pips trusted friend, often inviting him to his “Walworth castle”, with his useful materialistic advice, Pips apparent need to get hold of “portable property” is one of these. In addition, he decides to remain a friend of Pip right until almost the very end of the novel when Pip moves to “Egypt, to work as a clerk”. This shows that he is definitely a good friend especially as he made him “best man” at his wedding with Miss Skiffins.

However, I feel that Wemmick’s gentlemanly merits are shown to many other people other than Pip. For example he helps his parent, referred to as “the Aged”, and cares for him at his home. He tries to be nice to him by letting him “read the paper” and by “firing the stinger”. Wemmick clearly does not dislike the Aged in fact he treats him in a friendly manner trying to please him by “nodding” to indicate his attention. In addition, he treats Mrs Wemmick (n�e Skiffins) well with honest intentions towards her resulting in what seems, on the surface, to be a very happy marriage.

Dickens seems to try to make Wemmick a gentleman although he is directly related in work to the law business. He does this by having Wemmick with two sides, the “Walworth sentiments” side who is a nice friendly character, and the “work sentiments” side who treats people as he needs to rather than as he feels is just. This is not surprising due to Dickens dislike of the law.

Therefore, after looking through all the men in the book who could be the “gentlemen” of the novel who do it actually seem to be? Obviously there are several that stand out: Joe with his support for Pip, Magwitch’s donations that made Pip who he is and Wemmick with his loyal friendship.

However I feel that Herbert is by far the gentleman of the book in the way that he is nice to all he meets, remains a loyal friend of Pips throughout the book and is generally a completely selfless person. Herbert manages to do these things where the others can fall short Wemmick with his “work sentiments” and Magwitch and his obvious criminal record.


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