Pip wants ‘to be a gentleman’; Estella is educated for a ‘lady’. What does this novel have to say about the qualities that are vital in order to be a good person? How relevant are these values to today’s society? Great Expectations explores the qualities that constitute good people, that is gentlemen and ladies, through its various characters. Dickens’ idea of an ideal gentleman is similar to that of Newman, who wrote a guide for young men going to university in 1852, advising them on how they should act. They suggest that a gentleman would be someone who was truthful, had sensitivity to others and was self-aware.
Dickens’ prime example of a good person in Great Expectations is Joe Gargery. Joe is always honest and truthful; a good example of this is when he goes to visit Pip after Pip has become a gentleman. He tells Pip where he belongs ‘I’m wrong out of the forge, the kitchen, or off th’meshes. ‘ He understands the differences between them and is truthful because he doesn’t pretend that he is at home in London. In this speech Joe is also humble, polite and modest. He blames himself, instead of Pip to make sure Pip feels good about himself. ‘If there’s been any fault at all to-day, it’s mine.
‘ This is a strong contrast to Bentley Drummle, as John Mahoney wrote in his guide to Great Expectations1, ‘gracelessness and surly, arrogant manner’. Honesty is also shown by Herbert Pocket, as when Pip is confessing to him that he loves Estella, he tactfully tells him she may not be in the ‘package’ Miss Havisham has given him, and that Pip should try not to love her. He tries to persuade Pip she is not the right wife for him, as she isn’t a very pleasant person, and he should try to forget her. ‘Think of her upbringing… Think of what she is herself… This may lead to miserable things…
You can’t detach yourself? ‘ Natural tact must surely be one of the traits of a true gentleman. Herbert shows this on many occasions. For example, when Pip asks him to help him improve his manners, we notice Herbert’s natural tact and friendliness when he agrees to help. He also uses his discretion after the dreadful play Mr Wopsle was in, where he said the performance went ‘capitally’, and Mr Wopsle’s reading was ‘massive and concrete’. He does this instead of telling the truth and that it wasn’t very professional therefore making Mr Wopsle feel confident about himself, instead of feeling demoralised.
Newman describes how as true gentlemen we should1 ‘conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. ‘ Joe does this when they catch the convict; instead of being annoyed that the convict stole the pie, he doesn’t mind. He just says: “God knows you’re welcome to it – so far as it was ever mine,” … “We don’t know what you have done, but we wouldn’t have you starved to death for it, poor miserable fellow-creatur. – Would us, Pip? “. Joe sees the convict as a human being and a fellow creature… unlike the guards on the prison ship who treated the convicts like dogs.
This makes the convict feel love, probably something he hasn’t had much of before, and he develops a click in his throat and has to hide his face, as he tries not to cry. Herbert is also kind and very gentle to others, but mainly his friends, Pip describes him as ‘the kindest of nurses’. If you are a true gentleman you do not inflict pain on others. As Newman says2 ‘a gentleman…. is one who never inflicts pain. ‘ Dickens shows this in a humorous way when Herbert has a fight with Pip. Herbert fought like he had been taught how to fight, by doing pathetic little punches and he couldn’t hurt Pip.
Although Pip just knocked Herbert, ‘the pale young gentleman’, over with blow after blow. Dickens’ good people are genuine. Matthew Pocket revealed that ‘no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was, since the world began, a true gentleman in manner. He says, no varnish can hide the grain of the wood; and that the more varnish you put on, the more the grain will express itself. ‘ Matthew tells the reader that we can’t disguise ourselves, if you aren’t a gentleman, but dress up as one, no matter to what degree; your true personality still shines through. Herbert realises this too.