What It Means To Be A Gentleman In Great Expectations
Cari Gilkison, English 202: British Lit
Great Expectations deals with many issues, one of which is the definition of what it means to be a Gentleman. As Pip narrates the story, the meaning of the word gentleman changes. Just as many of our views take on a different light as we grow, Pip’s view of a gentleman takes on a different meaning throughout the course of the novel.
At the opening of the novel, Pip is not really aware of the differences between the classes in society. He knows only the life that he has led. Then one day Miss Havisham calls on him to come visit her. At Miss Havisham’s home he meets Estella. It is the moment that Estella points out his rough hand that his attraction to her becomes painfully clear. However, Estella is a lady and the only hope that he has of winning her over is to become a gentleman. He has to bridge the gap between his lower class upbringing and her upper class upbringing.
From that moment until Pip moves to London “Gentleman” means a certain things to Pip. A Gentleman is a refined man. He is someone with character and grace. A gentleman must have culture, money and social status. In the Victorian age of high society there were a lot of rules that a gentleman had to follow. And even though Pip was a good-natured young man, he could not quite become a gentleman.
Then Jaggers comes and gives Pip a chance to go to London. Someone has decided to make a gentleman out of Pip by introducing him to society. What he couldn’t do himself; someone has been able to do for him. Now he can better himself for Estella. He is given a job as a law clerk, which is a step up from being a blacksmith’s apprentice. At first Pip feels out of place, but soon things change.
Once Pip becomes the gentleman he’s always wanted to be, he finds that it is not what he’d thought it would be like. The title of Great Expectations is a bit ironic, considering Pip’s expectations are not met. He finds the life of dressing nice, throwing parities and being a social snob is empty without his Estella. But it isn’t until Joe comes to visit that he realizes what he must do. Joe’s uncomfortableness and awkwardness in Pip’s new life makes him see that he’d forgotten his humble and meek beginnings. He’d lost that part of himself that he’d held most valuable.
This prompts Pop to return home to see Miss Havisham and Estella. Now that he is a gentleman he has to find out if he is good enough for Estella. She confesses to him that her heart is cold and that she could never really love anyone. And she considers Pip just a friend and someone she could never see herself marrying. Pip’s sacrifices to become the gentleman she needed were all for nothing. Now the word gentleman means nothing to Pip as he tries to find out who he truly is without the dream of Estella.
And so what is a gentleman? Pip never realized that he was a true gentleman at the beginning of the novel. It is his kindness, honesty and character that make him so. When Pip realizes this, he goes back to being the gentleman from humble means he was before.