What Is Pip's Idea of a Gentleman?

Dickens' novels protested the cruel rich.
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Pip, the protagonist of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations," moves from poverty to luxury when his benefactor, Abel Magwitch, determines to "make a gentleman--and, Pip, you're him!" However, Pip's idea of a gentleman evolves into something different from Magwitch's.

1 Gentlemen Need Money

Pip is made uncomfortable with his coarseness by Estella, Miss Havisham's ward--"he's a common, labouring boy," a remark which reminds Pip that gentlemen do not work. A second revelation comes through Jaggers; after Pip inherits, the stern lawyer becomes an affable moneylender. Money, Pip decides, makes people reasonable.

2 Gentlemen Are Malicious

Pip's gentlemanly ideas further evolve when he learns Bentley Drummle courts Estella; Pip denigrates Drummle's humble beginnings, forgetting his own. He criticizes Estella's choice, solidifying his position that gentlemen can be cruel.

3 Gentlemen Are Snobs

Pip's revelation comes when his friend Joe Gargery comes to visit; thoroughly uncomfortable, Joe muses "divisions among such must come" and departs. In selling out a loving friend for unloving society, Pip realizes he is a "snob" and that gentlemen commit the "worst meannesses . . . [for] people we despise."

4 The Circle Closes

Pip's idea of a gentleman evolves from something he desires to become into something he hates -- and has become.

  • 1 Great Expectations; Charles Dickens

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.