According to Dictionary.com, a gentleman is a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man. However, by Victorian definition, a gentleman was, perhaps most importantly, a rich man. “Charles Dickens…was an author of relatively humble origins who desired passionately to be recognized as a gentleman, and insisted, in consequence, upon the essential dignity of his occupation” (Victorian Web). In Great Expectations he portrays Pip, a poor boy turned rich through expectations, who must learn what true dignity is. A Christmas Carol, too, reveals Scrooge’s distortion of the gentlemanly role and the dire need to understand genuine goodness. In both Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens shows how two men, Pip and Scrooge, are affected by the social norms of the day; however, when they are guided by righteous people, they find the true meaning of being happy without gentlemanly status or great wealth.
From the day he was born, Charles Dickens was apart the social discrimination that came with being a member of the working class. He was born Charles John Huffman Dickens on February 7th, 1812 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England to Elizabeth née Barrow and John Dickens. His father was a clerk at a Navy Pay Office. “John was a congenial man, hospitable and generous to a fault which caused him financial difficulties throughout his life” (Merriman). Charles’ father was a true gentleman in his eyes; however, he was not viewed as such from the world’s point of view because he was not affluent. In 1824 John Dickens was imprisoned for debt and Charles was forced to work to support his family. This was one of the low points in Dickens’ life and he went out of it with a harsh view on the world and dreaded to be of gentlemanly status and wealth, reflected in the character of Pip in Great Expectations (Merriman).
Dickens “attacked the cold Victorian compromise” with his portrayal of the true gentleman in Pip (Chesterton 456). “In an era that witnessed the emergence, establishment and eventually the limited acceptance of the working-class political presence the importance of gentleman leasers mat seen are odds with notions if working-class independence and collective self-action” ( Belchem, Epstein 174). Charles’ father is a perfect example of this shift in power, more to the rich and less to the poor. “One of the important perceptions of Dickens’ fiction is of Victorian society as one in which the weak support the strong, the starving underwrite the satiated, the poor prop up the rich, the children sustain the parents- and the female holds up the male” (Houston 13). Dickens was leading a kind of social revolution, trying to reenergize the presence of the working class not only in politics, but in society as well. Pip in Great Expectations is a warrior used to fight in this social clash, showing that the true gentleman is not rich with money, but rich with satisfaction and happiness. Dickens is trying to show that when Pip is thrown into his expectations and becomes a “gentleman” he is not a gentleman at all, it is only by the end of the novel when the true gentleman is shown through Pip.
Like the three ghosts of Christmas in A Christmas Carol, Pip, too, has three role models who aid him in his transformation into a gentleman. The first of these role models is Biddy, who had an early influence on Pip and helped to teach him in his early age. She aided Pip’s sister after she was attack and although Pip never found Biddy overwhelmingly attractive, especially after meeting Estella, she always had a special place in his heart. However, as Pip begins to enter his expectations, he becomes unappreciative for all that Biddy has done for him. After Pip experiences reminiscence of the love and caring that Biddy once gave him, he realizes how rude he was to Biddy and that unlike Estella, Biddy was kind and loving and decides to marry her. However, she marries another one of Pip’s role models, Joe.
Like Biddy, Joe had an early influence on Pip. He was a role model and friend of Pip ever since he and Pip’s sister got married. Joe gave Pip all the love he had ever known, he says, “he always aided and comforted me when he could, in some way of his own, and he always did so at dinner-time by giving me gravy, if there were any” (Dickens 360). As Pip looked back on his expectations, he realized that he should have visited him when he was a “gentleman”. However Pip was too ashamed of Joe because he was poor and uneducated, he even says, “I am afraid that I was ashamed of the dear good fellow” (Dickens 125). Pip realizes when he is sick that Joe, despite his minimal means, was more of a gentleman than he was.
Pip’s third role model, Wemmick, was nearly an ideal example of what Dickens portrayed a gentleman to be. He “charitably recuperates the past in order to meet present familial needs” (Downing 607). Wemmick, unlike Pip, puts family first and gives nearly all of his earnings and time to his father. Through Wemmick, Pip is able to recollect how poorly he mistreated his family when he was a “gentleman”. “Pip finally discovers that selfless love satisfies” (Downing 611).
Like Scrooge, Pip must evaluate his past, present, and future to recognize his faults. Both men are consumed by money and lavish living. Also, they both find themselves superior to their initially humble origins, Pip through his expectations, and Scrooge through his money making with Marley. Both men stray from the love they grew up with because they feel as if it was never there. Scrooge had an abusive father and Pip had an abusive sister who “brought him up by hand” (Dickens 36). However, their love came from other family members, both Fan and Joe, but they become invested in a new love, money.
They think money will buy them the happiness they deserve; however, as Dickens wants us to recognize, love and family is what truly makes them happy, and that is what Wemmick recognizes and models for Pip. It takes “guides” to help both these men realize that there is happiness away from money, and in fact, for these men, the money makes them less happy. These men did receive love in their youth from gentle and righteous people, but they become too easily blinded by money to realize that it is that selfless love that will truly satisfy them. At the end of the novel Pip joins up with another individual who is rediscovering herself, Estella. They go away from the Satis House, which represents the lavish living and selfishness of the day, into an unknown future. However, there is optimism, with Pip’s change, that their futures will both be selfless and full of true love.
Dickens shows how two men, Pip and Scrooge, are affected by the social norms of the day; however, when they are guided by righteous people, they find the true meaning of being happy without gentlemanly status or great wealth. Through these two characters Dickens is trying to show that a true gentleman is not the man with wealth and status; rather, it is the man who is humble, selfless, and caring. He is showing how even poor and middle-class men can be “gentlemen”. According to Robin Gilmour, “Great Expectations is a masterpiece not because it denounces gentlemanliness as a sham, or argues that only a good man can be a gentleman, but because it shows that Pip’s struggle to become a gentleman is at once justified aspiration to a better and finer kind of life and an ambition that inevitably gets snarled in the trammels of class” (Gilmour 12). Dickens could write Great Expectations “because he has lived through such a struggle and understood it’s…complexity” (Gilmour 12). A true gentleman has the qualities of a gentleman, but not necessarily the wealth, and that is what makes him happy and satisfied.
Belchem, John and Epstein, James. “The Nineteenth-Century Gentleman Leader Revisited.” Social History (1997): 174-193. JSTOR. Web. 22 March 2013. Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Jill Kriegel. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. Print. Gilmour, Robin. The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1981. Print. Houston, Gail T. “‘Pip’ and ‘Property’: The (Re)Production of the Self in ‘Great Expectations’.” Studies in the Novel (1992): 13-25. JSTOR. Web. 22 March 2013 Merriman, C.D. “Charles Dickens.” The Literature Network. Jalic, n.d. Web.