Great Expectations Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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How do Pip's ideas about what a gentleman is change throughout Great Expectations?

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Pip starts out life as a humble boy, an orphan who lives with his much older sister and her husband, the blacksmith Joe. As a child, Pip has no aspirations to become a gentleman: the best he can hope for is to learn to be a blacksmith like Joe. A gentleman, by definition, would have enough money that he wouldn't have to labor with his hands as a blacksmith does. Pip is satisfied with this humble destiny, as he has no reason to expect more. He also esteems Joe highly.

When Pip finds out he has great expectations, however, he begins to change. He has been given a large monthly allowance by a mysterious benefactor and goes to London to live the high life. As his acquaintances change, his clothing and speech become more refined, and he learns to enjoy the good life, he begins to become ashamed of Joe and tries to avoid him. At this point, Pip defines a gentleman by his outward wrappings, such as how he looks and speaks, and how much money he has. This is a snobbish and shallow view of life.

By the end of the book, after Pip has been humbled and chastened by his experiences, and after the hardworking Joe pays off his debts, Pip realizes that Joe is the true gentleman. What makes a person gentle is what he is like on the inside, not the clothes he wears or the way he speaks. Joe is a truly good, kind, and generous man, and Pip feels remorse over how he has looked down on him.

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