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Magwitch's Manipulations Of Pip In Great Expectations

2732 words - 11 pages

Magwitch's Manipulations of Pip in Great Expectations

     In Great Expectations, Charles Dickens criticizes the motivation of the lower classes to rise to the level of wealth and education held by the upper classes by showing the extent to which Pip is exploited by Magwitch to meet these goals. To meet the expectations of the gentleman, Pip must leave his family and any possibility of earning his living in order to satisfy the educational and societal demands of this standard. Magwitch, a social deviant, hopes to prove his viability by using his unfortunate circumstances to produce a gentleman entirely by his own effort. Magwitch exhibits Pip to the world as a gentleman who is not hardened by labor, but he does so by his own physical labor. Charles Dickens uses references to the exploitation that took place in the fairs of the nineteenth century to criticize Pip's gentlemanly aspirations by showing how Magwitch's creation of a gentleman through his physical labor resembles the often dishonest efforts of a fair Exhibitor to display his oddities.


The traditional definition of the gentleman which was adopted by the upper-classes in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was one that made virtuous the leisurely lifestyle of the wealthy. The gentleman possessed social qualities which made his company desirable. "High birth, talent, grace, physical attractiveness, eloquence, learning and sprezzatura (a nonchalant, effortless ease) in both physical and intellectual activities" (Platz 150) were qualities of the gentleman that contributed to the social importance of the position. These virtues, however, allowed for other characteristics, which in the labor sensitive culture of the mid-nineteenth century, were seen as flaws that were quickly attributed to the static wealth of the landed gentry. The title of "gentleman" had typically been applied to "younger sons of nobility, who had no title, land, military rank, or fixed occupation and therefore could not claim any established legal name" (Letwin 5). The title of gentleman therefore denotes one who passes his time idly without and obligation or responsibility besides remaining socially amiable. The emergence of the middle class in the nineteenth century allowed people not of noble birth to enter the ranks of gentility. Becoming an educated and morally noble gentleman had come within the reach of those who had previously been excluded. Industry made it possible for someone of the working class to elevate his social position through his own efforts. This new definition of the gentleman "had a great appeal among the emerging middle class because high birth, the traditional passport to recognition as a gentleman, could be side-stepped-at least in theory" (Platz 152). This new opportunity created a split between the traditional upper classes and the newly established English bourgeoisie. Dickens recognized the paradoxical aspiration toward the position...

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