"No varnish can hide the grain of the wood." How does Dickens present the qualities of a gentleman in Great Expectations?

Expert Answers
Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pip, after his encounter with the lovely but condescending Estella and Miss Havisham, wants to be nothing but a gentleman, though he has little hope of accomplishing this. When he grows up and approaches adulthood, he is given the opportunity of becoming just that by an unknown benefactor. Through the character of Pip, Dickens explores the inadequate description of a gentleman as one who is independently wealthy, not required to work, and who spends his time as he wishes, usually spending his money on frivolous activities. However, Pip learns that this description is far from being that of a true gentleman. Pip learns the identity of his benefactor, and is not happy to find that his benefactor is a former criminal. He rejects the financial support but tries to help his benefactor to escape from the law and certain death. He has also helped his friend Herbert Pocket to succeed in reaching his goal of becoming a clerk. In this way, Pip is acknowledged to have become a true gentleman, a person who is of service to others. Dickens thus portrays a true gentleman as one who looks to help others, not thinking only of himself. It is kindness, not money, that brings nobility. This quality is one that Pip has had from the very beginning, and which gained him the attention of his secret benefactor. Pip thought the money would help him to become a gentleman. Instead, the fact that he was a gentleman gained him the money.

Read the study guide:
Great Expectations

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question