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Discuss Dickens' treatment of the Victorian concept of a gentleman in Great Expectations.

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Introduction

Discuss Dickens' treatment of the Victorian concept of a gentleman in Great Expectations Victorian society was very class orientated and gentlemen were the elite of their world. Traditionally gentlemen came from good backgrounds, were wealthy and conducted themselves in a proper and gentlemanly manner. Charles Dickens' disagrees with these stereotypes and he shows this in his novels. In Great Expectations Philip Phirrip, nicknamed 'Pip', thrives to become what the Victorians perceived to be a gentleman. Pip wants to have great wealth and to have all the things that he felt were important in order to become a gentleman. Characters like Joe Gargery and Magwitch also show their belief that they consider these material things to be important in a gentleman by their change of attitude to Pip after he becomes a 'gentleman'. Throughout the novel though, Pip's view on what a real gentleman changes considerately and this is portrayed very visibly by the way that Pip narrates the story at the end. His change in views from the time that he performs the actions to the time that he narrates them is shown by Pip's use of regretful language or the way he feels about what he did in the past. Dickens recognized the old fashioned views that the society of the time had concerning gentleman and showed throughout his novels his opinion on this matter. ...read more.

Middle

When Magwitch is in court he talks about the appearances of Compeyson and himself when he says, "I noticed first of all what a gentleman Compeyson looked wi'his curly hair and his black clothes and his white pocket handkerchief and what a common sort of wretch I looked." Dickens has included these characters to show the injustice that the people who are considered gentlemen in his society are in reality the cruelest and most indecent of all. This is shown very clearly by Dickens in the fate of these characters. Compeyson in the end, dies by drowning and Drummle dies in a horse accident. This clearly portrays the fact that Dickens as a social critic wants to try and change people's views on what they think a gentleman really is and to base their judgments on character, not on wealth. When Pip first arrives in London he is treated very well by Herbert who goes out especially to buy Pip strawberries, but when it comes to being hospitable to people who Pip grew up with like Joe Gargery, Pip is at the very least unwelcoming. Pip is disgusted at the thought of Joe coming and all he can think about is his new 'friends' seeing him with the people he used to associate with. ...read more.

Conclusion

He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself". This quotation tale compares Pip to a piece of wood and Pip's possessions and money to varnish. Here Dickens is saying that being a true gentleman requires much more than just possessions and if someone thinks they are a gentleman just on those terms then their true colours will shine through. Dickens manages to totally subvert the Victorian readers expectations to outline his role as a social critic. Dickens knew that he was in a position of influence and also knew that by writing a story like Great Expectations it would make it impossible for people to ignore it. Dickens narrates the story in first person to make people think that this story is not just something in a book and it could actually occur. He also uses the retrospective viewpoint to highlight the dual perspective of both the child's and adult's perspective. We have no actual concrete evidence of how the Victorian public took this book, all we know is that because of the huge amount of stories sold, the book must have made a significant impressions on the readers at the time. Daniel Sheedy 5JR 5E1 17/03/02 ...read more.

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