Section 2 The Novel – Close Study Question 1
Dickens’ key theme in the novel is the concept of a true gentleman through which he conveys how society often mistakes wealth and social-class for gentility and shows that true gentility comes from high moral qualities. Dickens’ bildungsroman focuses on Pip’s development as he pursues his aspiration to become a gentleman. Firstly, when Pip first encounters Satis House and the “decaying” and “corpse-like” Mrs Havisham he is inspired to become a gentleman in order to win over the “beautiful young lady at Miss Havisham's who was dreadfully proud”, that is Estella. However, Pip mistakes gentility with wealth and social class and begins to feel “ashamed of the dear old fellow”, Joe and the forge and wishes that “Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up”. Pip begins to feel ashamed of himself also and sees himself as a “common laboring-boy; that my hands were coarse; that my boots were thick; … and generally that I was in a low-lived bad way”. Secondly, after Pip receives his great expectations and goes to London to be educated, Pip encounters characters whom society would regard as gentleman, but who are revealed to not only be coarse and brutal but also extremely cruel and unjust. In particular, Pip first hears of Compeyson through Magwitch’s recount of their history, describing his gentleman-like appearance, “When we was put in the dock, I noticed first of all what a gentleman Compeyson looked, wi' his curly hair and his black clothes and his white pocket-handkercher, and what a common sort of a wretch I looked.” This juxtaposed imagery reveals how the social conception of gentility is based on appearance and wealth. It is Herbert who first warns Pip of the distinction between a true gentlemen and “show-offs”, telling him, “I have heard my father mention that [Compeyson] was a showy man … that he was not to be … mistaken for a gentleman”. Thirdly, Pip’s impression of...
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