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What picture does Dickens’ give us of “a Gentleman” in “Great Expectations” and how does this reflect the Victorian view?

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Introduction

What picture does Dickens' give us of "a Gentleman" in "Great Expectations" and how does this reflect the Victorian view? In Victorian England there were strict social classes. These different classes were distinguished by inequalities in areas such as power, authority, wealth, living and working conditions, life span, education, religion and culture. There were four classes in Victorian England; the upper class, middle class, lower class and under class. The upper class comprised of the gentry and aristocracy. These were originally titled landowners and possessed a great amount of wealth and power in the Victorian age. The middle class was made up of the people in the main professions, such as lawyers, doctors, and the clergy. Many of the middle classes made fortunes in the industrial revolution and because they had as much wealth as many of the upper classes they gained political power and status. The working class was divided into 3 areas. These were skilled workers, craftsmen such as goldsmiths and blacksmiths, semi-skilled workers such as miners and mill workers, and unskilled workers such as railway porters and construction workers. The last class was the under class, sometimes referred to as the 'sunken people'. This class comprised of the people who lived in abject poverty, begging on the streets. For the upper classes especially, there were strict social rules and for this reason it was very difficult to move between classes. The behavioural code had to be followed at all costs. An example of this is that a Gentleman must never approach a lady to whom he had not been formally introduced and a lady must never be left unaccompanied. The idea of a "gentleman" is a major theme that runs throughout "Great Expectations". In Victorian society to be a "Gentleman" you had to meet certain criteria. A "Gentleman" must be rich, with fine material possessions. He also had to morally meet set guidelines. ...read more.

Middle

. . she is a lady and very beautiful. And I love her." This statement ensured that Magwitch died happy as her being a 'lady' would have made him happy because he always wanted Pip to be a 'gentleman'. Also he would be happy that the child he thought he had lost was still alive, and that Pip loved her, because he thinks very highly of Pip. When Magwitch dies Pip has changed completely. He has stopped being a snob and has found kindness, sensitivity and humanity. After Magwitch's death and the loss of all his money, Pip shows just how much he has changed by swallowing his pride and going back to the forge, with the intention of asking Biddy to marry him. But when Pip arrives he finds that it is Biddy and Joe's wedding day. Pip is honestly happy for them and shows how he has changed by swallowing his pride and asking for forgiveness; "Pray tell me both, that you forgive me" Both Biddy and Joe forgive him and Pip makes the decision to go out to the East to work with Herbert. Pip travels out to the East and for the first time in his life he gets the satisfaction of living off what he has earned, another aspect of a true gentleman. When Pip returns to England eleven years later he is much changed. Pip and Estella meet again and she too is unrecognisable as the woman she once was. Pip says of Estella's beauty that; "It's indescribable majesty and indescribable charm remained," He also says; "What I had never seen before was the saddened, softened light of the once proud eyes." Estella had suffered at the hands of the now deceased Drummle. Eventually Estella is able to admit her love for Pip, saying; "I have given it a place in my heart." By the end of the novel Pip has found happiness with Estella. ...read more.

Conclusion

This echoes something that Herbert's father, Matthew, said to Miss Havisham about Compeyson. He was disowned for telling her the truth and how Herbert talks to Pip shows how similar father and son are. Herbert is also educated and has the correct background and breeding required for a gentleman. He gains his own wealth through hard work, even though he was set up in business by Pip. This isn't classed as sponging though as he took Pip's money without his knowledge and worked hard at making his own fortune without anyone else's help. Herbert is selfless, honest, hard working and kind. He is rewarded by finding love with Clara and by making his fortune in the east. Herbert is perhaps the only true gentleman in the novel. In "Great Expectations" Dickens' gives us more than one picture of what a gentleman should be, over all the different characters he uses. He shows what he thinks of them through Pip, as he is Dickens' voice, and through their fate in the novel. All good characters were rewarded, such as Joe and Herbert, and all the bad characters were punished, like Drummle and Pumblechook. The only 'gentleman' in the novel who adheres to the Victorian ideal is Herbert. In my opinion "Great Expectations" is a very well written novel. The author skilfully manages to drop hints and link them into the story again at the end. He was able to make the reader relate to Pip, bringing out feelings of pity, dislike and sometimes hate towards him. He also had an odd sense of justice and as a reader I felt that all the characters got what they deserved, which made me happy. "Great Expectations" has made me want to read many others of Dickens' classics. The idea of a 'gentleman' was a great theme in Victorian society and many aspired to the position. In this respect the novel is an accurate representation of the society at that time and shows us what a 'gentleman' could be like, and the Victorian ideal of what a 'gentleman' should be like. ...read more.

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