A Gentleman within and the Gentlemen without… The complexity of moral growth in Great Expectations

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A Gentleman within and the Gentlemen without…

The complexity of moral growth in Great Expectations does not suffer in meaning or value when compared to the cliché that it is not what is outside, but what is inside a man that counts. Throughout the novel, the character of Pip is faced with struggling to find a place in a society he was not born into, nor initially morally suited for. The journey of self-growth that he undergoes is a gradual and subtle one, and it is often we find that he learns valuable lessons about being a true gentleman too late to restore his world to the way he wishes it could be. The journeys and actions of the characters Joe Gargery, Mr Jaggers, Abel Magwitch and (indirectly) Herbert Pocket allows Pip to grow from their experiences, and shapes his character into the gentleman he desires to be. The lessons each character present to Pip about the essence of being a true gentleman in a society plagued by so many who aren’t will be identified and explored, to bring clarity to Pip’s journey to fulfilling his expectations.

Joe Gargery is Pip’s brother-in-law, yet fulfils the dual role of father and friend during his childhood. He is a simple man, suffering under Mrs Joe’s (Pip’s sister and surrogate mother) suppressive personality. In the beginning of the novel, prior to Pip being exposed to the world he feels will satisfy his expectations, Joe and Pip are equals – the humbleness and loyalty that Joe displays are often similar to that of a child. Joe is comfortable with who he is and while he desires to learn from Pip once he becomes educated, he does not seek to be anything other than what he is. This, ideally, would have been a priceless lesson for Pip to learn, as it would have spared Pip from losing himself in a complex and corrupt world. Sadly, yet pivotally to the intrigue of the plot, it is only once Pip realises the error in his ways that he can see the true gentleman in Joe. Interestingly, it is something he identifies early on when he comments that “[I] was looking up to Joe in my heart” (49). This is not simply an affection of love, yet one of admiration and respect. It is once Joe repays Pip’s debts, and leaves to save Pip the ‘embarrassment’ of associating with him, that Pip realises the quality of Joe’s character. Joe embodies the true gentleman; while not of class, his character is class, and he continually displays qualities of loyalty and fidelity that Pip believes can be embodied by outward displays of wealth and education. Pip learns from Joe – albeit in hindsight and through his own personal crises – that wealth and class are not fundamental to being a gentleman.

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Mr Jaggers, the attorney of Pip’s mysterious benefactor and a ruthless and respected man in society, represents what Pip could become in the society he loses himself in. His standing as a gentleman is not based in the quality of his character (as he is a portrayed as a defence lawyer, interacting with dubious suspects on a daily basis with a fierce and powerful manner) but in the fearful respect he commands in society. So complex is Mr Jagger’s character that he is able to command respect from Pip, despite that he “hardly knew what to make of Mr ...

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