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Great Expectations

            The concept of the gentleman is not merely a social or class designation. There is also a moral component inherent in the concept that made it a difficult and an ambiguous thing for the Victorians themselves to attempt to define. Dickens, in the novel Great Expectations, exploits the ambiguity of the term gentleman. Then, as now, it would mean someone who behaved in a certain way (truthful, honest, considerate etc.). But, it also carried a sense of belonging to a separate class. Several different characters are portrayed as "gentlemen,"" but there is only one man who demonstrates the qualities of a true gentleman, and that is the blacksmith Joe. .
             One idea of defining a gentlemen is by his social status or class: this is measured in terms of his understanding of rules of social etiquette (table manners and so on), habits of dress and speech and the standing of his family; of course, wealth is important, too. Even a "poor" gentleman, such as Matthew Pocket employs a number of servants. Early in the novel Pip forms this idea when he meets the beautiful Estella, which makes him desperate to be her social equal. At the same time he becomes ashamed of his honest master, the blacksmith Joe, and is disgusted by the recollection of his dealings with the convict, Magwitch. Then, there is another quite different standard apparent from early on in the novel, and which Pip eventually realizes: that being a true gentleman is a matter of virtue and honesty, of having a station in life which one can fill with dignity, as Biddy says of Joe. .
             When Pip moves to London to increase his social status, his life as a "gentleman- is no more satisfying "and certainly no more moral "than his previous life as a blacksmith's apprentice. Pip sees being a gentleman as merely a matter of manners, clothes, and clubs. By snubbing others, Pip believes he elevates himself. Pip's idealism often leads him to perceive the world rather narrowly, and his tendency to oversimplify situations based on a superficial standard of value leads him to behave badly toward the people who care about him.

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