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In "Great Expectations," what is Pip's notion of a true gentleman?

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ne-yo | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 25, 2009 at 12:42 PM via web

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In "Great Expectations," what is Pip's notion of a true gentleman?

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lit24 | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted April 25, 2009 at 7:10 PM (Answer #1)

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The central question in Dickens' "Great Expectations" is "who is the true gentleman?"

In Ch.22, Herbert Pocket emphatically states  to  Pip (Handel) his father Matthew Pocket's notion of 'the true gentleman' :

"It is a principle of his (Matthew Pocket) that no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner. 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."

So, according to Dickens the true gentleman is a person with a generous and noble heart like Joe who remains constant and faithful to Pip till the end, even though Pip rejects him soon after he becomes infatuated with Estella.

Pip, ofcourse, is only a 'gentleman in manner' who merely acquires the 'varnish' or the superficial qualities of a London gentleman by learning to eat with a fork and a spoon and by wearing fashionable clothes. The 'varnish' instead of hiding his true nature only serves to expose and highlight it: In Ch.23 in order to keep up with the London fashion Pip takes tuition lessons on boat rowing on the river Thames. His tutor, an expert oarsman, complimented him by remarking that he had the arms of a blacksmith.

It is only at the end of the novel, after Pip realises who his real benefactor is and after he has got over his infatuation with Estella that he undergoes a change of heart and becomes a reformed person.

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