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Charles Dickens' Great Expectations Essay

2243 words - 9 pages

The novel, Great Expectations, deals with the concepts of a ‘true gentleman’; where the Victorian idea, which is based upon birth, wealth, social status and apparel, contrasts to Dickens’ portrayal of a gentleman who is a person of kindness, humility and generosity. Dickens upbringing and early life allows him to understand the position of the poor due to their humble upbringing, which keeps them in the lower social class. His didactic message, what it is to be a true gentleman, is reinforced by the bildungsroman style of the novel.

In Victorian times, one who came from a wealthy and respectable family was considered to be a gentleman. This is clear in numerous characters in the novel, who are immediately perceived to be gentlemen as they boast a large amount of money and dress in the finest clothes. One example, Compeyson, uses this to get a reduced sentence in court, as Magwitch says ‘one, the younger, well brought up, who will be spoke to as such’. This highlights the importance of social class in the Victorian era and it is clear to see here that the justice system is very much more favourable to the higher social ranks, deciding how they would get treated and addressed, and that the punishment is not dependent on the crime, rather the individual at trial’s background and upbringing. Dickens has shown that the Victorian concept of a gentleman is all about wealth and social ranking, not the characteristics we see in a gentleman today.

In addition to this, many of the characters in the novel show they also have the misconception that money makes a gentleman. Magwitch’s comment on Pip’s return that he [Pip] has ‘contracted expensive habits’ proves this and gives the impression that spending money in such lavish ways was normal and acceptable in those times, and something that Pip cannot control. The tone Magwitch uses is also verging on proud, in the sense that he is proud that Pip is able to afford to live such a comfortable lifestyle, without having to worry about financial issues. However, Pip may not be able to avoid this as he hasn’t had been taught about restraint that comes with money; only that if you have little money, you should spend it. Dickens plays on his lack of knowledge to portray the Victorian gentleman as being rich; however, this contrasts to his own gentleman of generosity and humility.

Appearance was of extreme significance and greatly affects the perception of a gentleman in Victorian times. Magwitch appears as a criminal at first, described as, ‘A fearful man, all in coarse grey, with a great iron on his leg…who limped and shivered, and glared and growled.’ The language Dickens has used such as ‘coarse’ is harsh and amplifies the terror instigates by the bestial imagery of ‘glared’ and growled’. He is described with very little narrative perspective as the verbs are omitted from the first to sentences which underscores the disgust the Victorians would have felt for him seeing as his appearance is not worthy of a...

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