This novel focuses on a boy called Pip who starts his life as a lower-class citizen but as the book progresses, is exposed to a life that he does not know, the life of a gentleman but Dickens challenges what this means. He wasn’t happy with the way that labels were being given to different classes in the nineteenth century. For example the upper class are gentlemen and gentlewomen but the lower classes can only be scum. So he asks “Can one not be an upper-class citizen and still be a good, respectable member of society?” Or to phrase it another way just because one leads a life of upper-class wealth, society etc. does this make him a true gentleman? I will focus on whether the old Pip, narrating this book, is fair in thinking that his younger self makes all the mistakes when being allowed the choice to be a gentleman or continue with his previous, ordinary but happy life without Estella.
I called myself Pip and came to be called Pip
Pip, adopted son of a blacksmith, starts out his life as a simple, innocent child. When he meets a convict out in the marshes he is terrified so much even by the convict just asking him to take a bit of brandy and a pork pie. I think it is fair to say that most children in nineteenth century could have taken a pork pie from their mother’s store and not be scared for life but Pip is so innocent that he barely manages to do this. And that small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry was Pip the fact that he refers to himself in third person at this point indicates that he might be ashamed of his lack of courage and therefore wishes not to say “I”
Pip is taken, by virtue of Mr. Pumblechook, to Satis house. Here is where he meets a totally new class Mice have gnawed at it this quote sums up Satis house. It is gnawed at, decayed just like Miss Havisham, one of two occupants “and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed me. Dickens creates the scene of a mouse filled cobwebbed, wasteland that is her house. Estella, its other inhabitant is a beautiful girl who, from the very first time she meets him, treats him horribly, calling him boy as if he is scum. She was as scornful of me as if she had been one-and twenty and a queen. This is the impression that Pip gets the higher social class. He dislikes this but is so enticed by her beauty that he not only accepts her conduct but also decides to change himself to fit her criteria. But the one thing that Pip never forgives himself for is ever falling in love with her. Imagine one day struck out, and think how different its course would been
Pip shows weakness by giving into Estella’s beauty she was very pretty despite her insults like you coarse common boy and her attempts to make him cry. Pip decides that he will change and become a “gentleman” so that he might be less open to Estella’s reproach Pip is particularly harsh on this subject because it is what begins the slippery slope that leads away from Joe. At first we judge him harshly too but later on we realize that Pip is only human and cannot help his fatal but true love for Estella.
This slippery slope starts by Pip disregarding Joe’s advice about becoming a gentleman “If you can’t be oncommon by going through straight paths then you can’t go through being crooked” meaning that since Pip has not the means by wealth or status to become a gentleman he should accept this for this will be his happiest option. As he realizes later, he is to come to grief by trying to change himself. This is another thing that make the older Pip angry with himself. He doesn’t only refuse advice from Joe but from Biddy too. She says, quite rightly, that if Pip wants to be a gentleman to gain her over I should think that she is worth gaining over and I agree with this statement, as does the older Pip reflecting on himself, I think because later he says perhaps I had not been sufficiently grateful to Biddy. Even Estella gives him fair warning of her situation when it comes to loving and that he should steer clear of her Don’t you take warning? she says this quite sternly but he takes little notice which brings him his downfall.
His downfall is when he comes into a lot of money provided by a mysterious benefactor and starts becoming proud I would not have had Miss Havisham Estella see it on any account and misunderstanding what a gentleman should do and be and because of this he decides to sacrifice his loved blacksmith future I had liked it once but once was not now. He has now lost his innocence that he had in the earlier stages of this novel. Now he knows so much more of the world of classes and discrimination which, Dickens can relate to, having been from humble upbringing himself. Dickens’s works being characterized by attacks on social evils, injustice, and hypocrisy and this can be seen here.
He thinks that a gentleman must look down on people of lower social status and by doing so repels Joe. I wanted Joe to be less ignorant and common that he may be worthier of my society and less open to Estella’s reproach
Pip genuinely thinks that he has risen above Joe and is a better person and that Joe is the one that needs to change and become more like Pip because he has more money than Joe when in fact we, and later, Pip, can see that it is Joe’s loving kindness even when Pip gives him the hardest of times (the dialogue tends the follow a similar pattern Joe are you angry? No Pip old chap), that Pip should be striving for. But rather he thinks that money will solve all his problems for example when Joe was to come over to Pip’s new establishment and Pip is so proud that he wishes rejects the kind man who raised him because he thinks that he is no longer worthy of him “I certainly would have paid money” when in fact it is money is what is making him a proud man and reckless spender. Money is also the cause of his bad relation with Orlick throughout the novel to the point of Orlick wanting to and nearly killing Pip.
When to his shock Pip discovers that his benefactor whom he thought so strongly was Miss Havisham of Satis house turns out to be Magwitch, a convict who he met back in those days of innocent youth and of whom he was so afraid, Pip’s idea of looking down on people of a lower social status grows so great that his reaction isn’t one of gratitude but instead one of disgust and repulsion. When Pip touched Magwitch his blood ran cold which we at first are appalled at but then realize that this convict did so scare Pip on the marshes all those years ago and we can sympathize with him and when he finally warms to the convict just before he is to die saying I will never stir from your side because he has realized the opportunity that the convict has provided for him and the love that he must feel for him to do this so he decides that it’s only fair to return some of that love. We see by actions such as this that there is good in him.
In conclusion I think that although the older Pip does have a right to make criticisms of his young self because he looses his way and becomes arrogant and proud, he does realize his mistakes I felt more than ever dissatisfied with my home and with my trade and with everything and attempts change and brings the best out of people like when he gets Estella to confide in him and be truthful to him. He opens out Mr. Jaggers’ hard exterior by talking with him and gets him to drop his business front, so that we see that he has some humanity still left in him, in front of Wemmick who has never seen him do so before.
I have never seen two men look at each other more oddly at each other than Jaggers and Wemmick did. Pip has managed, in half the time that Wemmick has been in association with Jaggers, to put Jaggers at ease, which is quite incredible. Another example is Magwitch, who makes this huge sacrifice to Pip because of Pip kindness, though small, to him on the marshes. He brought out good in a hardened convict, again, quite a feat. I’m quite content to take my chance. I’ve seen my boy and he can be a gentleman without me. He also dies happy knowing that his daughter lives and his “gentleman,” Pip, loves her. So we do get a feeling that everything, although in shambles through the most of the book, is put in place.
If he had been so unlikable as the older Pip seems to think then he wouldn’t be loved by so many. Like Hebert, that loves him as a best friend and Joe loves him with a fatherly love. Or Magwitch, who loves him with a completely selfless fatherly love, Wemmick who again loves him with that friendly love, and at the ambiguous ending possibly even Estella though she is convinced that she can’t love.