Illustration of Pip visiting a graveyard

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

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How does Pip perceive himself as a "gentleman" without money, and what societal values is Dickens criticizing?

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Pip’s identification as a gentleman was based not on how much money he had, but on the fact that he did not have to work for a living. To be identified as a "clerk," however, would mean that Pip would no longer be able to call himself a gentleman.

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Throughout the course of his young adulthood, Pip learns the real definition of gentleman.  At first, he connects it with having money.  A gentleman is a person of certain means and social class.  This is how Pip is trained up to be a gentleman once he gets his expectations.


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becoming a gentleman does not make Pip a better person.  Actually, you could argue quite to the contrary.  Pip becomes selfish, arrogant, and irresponsible once in London.  He turns his back on his family, and in bettering himself he considers himself superior to them.

Once Pip finds out who his benefactor is, he is heartbroken.  He realizes that the association does not elevate him at all.

“I have found out who my patron is. It is not a fortunate discovery, and is not likely ever to enrich me in reputation, station, fortune, anything. There are reasons why I must say no more of that. It is not my secret, but another's.” (Chapter XLIV)

Yet, a remarkable thing happens.  Pip becomes a better person after discovering who his benefactor is.  Once the blindfold is removed, he sees his situation for what it really is.  He also stops looking at Magwitch as a criminal, and starts to appreciate him for who he is—kind of like Pip did in the churchyard.  He becomes a son to Magwitch, a friend to Herbert, and a nephew to Joe.  He even makes his peace with Miss Havisham and Estella.

The kindness Pip shows to Magwitch as he is dying demonstrates how he has changed.

“You always waits at the gate; don't you, dear boy?”

“Yes. Not to lose a moment of the time.”

“Thank'ee, dear boy, thank'ee. God bless you! You've never deserted me, dear boy.” (Chapter LVI)

It is not having money only that made Pip improve.  It was having and then losing money that did it.  Over time, Pip was able to step back and realize what he had been.  

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Pip’s hopes in being a gentleman were wrapped up in his status as a “man of leisure,” meaning that he need not work for a living. To be a wage laborer, such as a clerk, was not within the realms of possibility for a gentleman, but its definition in the Victorian society in which Pip lived. More than education, more than parentage, it was the source of money (even more than the amount of money) that had become the identifying mark of a gentleman. It was not even his burdensome debt load that made him less than a gentleman, since this was almost common for the leisured class at that time. The fact that he would now have to find a job, such as he had provided for Herbert Pocket, meant that his “great expectations” had now come to an end.

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