What does Pip learn about being a gentleman?

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Pip is a poor orphan boy who knows nothing about the real world and certainly nothing about the world of the upper class. Miss Havisham is the second person of a higher class that he meets in his life, and her adopted daughter Estella is the first. Because of her beauty and superficial sophistication, the haughty girl becomes a symbol of everything desirable in the world--but Pip fails to realize that when he meets the haggard, forlorn Miss Havisham a few minutes later, he is also seeing what Estella will be like in the future.

By a miracle Pip finds himself chosen to become transformed from a blacksmith's apprentice into a real London gentleman. He does not realize that being a gentleman is not a real occupation. In fact, most gentlemen are incapable of work and despise work. They treat honest working men with contempt--an attitude which is a sure mark of a gentleman.

A good example of gentlemen is seen in Chapter 34 of Great Expectations, where Pip describes the behavior of the young members of the "club" called "The Finches of the Grove."

So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt. I could hardly begin but Herbert must begin too, so he soon followed. At Startop's suggestion, we put ourselves down for election into a club called the Finches of the Grove: the object of which institution I have never divined, if it were not that the members should dine expensively once a fortnight, to quarrel among themselves as much as possible after dinner, and to cause six waiters to get drunk on the stairs. I know that these gratifying social ends were so invariably accomplished, that Herbert and I understood nothing else to be referred to in the first standing toast of the society: which ran, “Gentlemen, may the present promotion of good feeling ever reign predominant among the Finches of the Grove.”

These unfortunate gentlemen have nothing to do with their lives but fill up the time from morning to night. Pip has a big advantage over them because he has grown up in a household where a man works hard to produce things of value to society. It is appropriate that Pip's first role model was a blacksmith, doing the hardest kind of work. Pip's friend Herbert has a sort of negative advantage in seeing how his father Matthew's fecklessness has led him into a desperate situation. Herbert is a gentleman, but he knows that being a gentleman is not really an occupation. He wants a real occupation. In the end, Pip comes to respect people who work for their livings and are an asset to society rather than a burden and a bad example. Pip realizes that he should have made something of himself, something other than a "gentleman." A real gentleman does not allow himself to become a helpless dependent and a parasite.

By the beginning of Chapter 34, Pip realizes he is on a slippery slope.

When I woke up in the night—like Camilla—I used to think, with a weariness on my spirits, that I should have been happier and better if I had never seen Miss Havisham's face, and had risen to manhood content to be partners with Joe in the honest old forge.

Pip's greatest insight comes in Chapter 39 with the shocking appearance of Abel Magwitch out of the howling storm of reality, who reveals himself as Pip's secret benefactor. Pip realizes with horror that he has been made into a weak, improvident parasite and has satisfied Magwitch's idea and ideal of a "gentleman"--a loafer, a man-about-town, a clothes horse, a spendthrift.

Yes, Pip, dear boy, I've made a gentleman on you! It's me wot has done it! I swore that time, sure as ever I earned a guinea, that guinea should go to you. I swore arterwards, sure as ever I spec'lated and got rich, you should get rich. I lived rough, that you should live smooth; I worked hard that you should be above work. What odds, dear boy? Do I tell it fur you to feel a obligation? Not a bit. I tell it, fur you to know as that there hunted dunghill dog wot you kep life in, got his head so high that he could make a gentleman—and, Pip, you're him!
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When Pip first learns he is being financed to become a gentleman, he moves to London, finds fine lodgings, and buys expensive clothing. As his own status elevates, he becomes ashamed of Joe, a humble blacksmith. He feels superior to him. He even tries to avoid seeing him, despite all the kindness and compassion Joe showed to him when he was a child.

As time goes on, however, and Pip learns that Magwitch, the convict, is his secret benefactor, he begins to be humbled. When Pip learns to love and appreciate Magwitch despite his background, he begins to change. When Joe pays his debts and treats him with forgiveness despite all his former snobbery, Pip realizes that a true gentleman isn't defined by his wealth or outward appearance. He grows to realize that what counts is a person's character or soul: what they are on the inside. Joe may be a humble blacksmith, but his generosity, gentleness, and compassion make him a true gentleman. Pip thought he was a gentleman because of his fine clothes and companions, but realizes that was all external: he was nothing but a snob.

The humbled Pip goes to see Joe and his new wife Biddy, who is as good as Joe is. Pip promises to pay back all he owes them. But he wants their good opinion, because he now knows their worth:

And now, though I know you have already done it in your own kind hearts, pray tell me, both, that you forgive me! Pray let me hear you say the words, that I may carry the sound of them away with me, and then I shall be able to believe that you can trust me, and think better of me, in the time to come!

O dear old Pip, old chap,” said Joe. “God knows as I forgive you, if I have any thing to forgive!

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