Chapter one of Mary Barton is the exposition of the novel, in which Gaskell sets the scene and introduces the reader to the characters.
The chapter begins on a happy Sunday afternoon walk between two families, the Bartons and the Wilson's. The setting is that of local beauty spot Green Heys Fields. Gaskell goes on to describes the surroundings of Green Heys Field and the people that were choosing to take a walk there:
'Groups of merry and somewhat loud-talking girls, whose ages might range from twelve to twenty, came by with buoyant step.' Also ' there were also numbers of boys, or rather young men, rambling among the fields, ready to bandy jokes with anyone, and particularly ready to enter into conversation with the girls'.
This gives the idea that these fields became a local gathering place for working class people and a place where they could enjoy the open space away from the town.
This opening chapter in comparison to the rest of the novel is quite light-hearted; it could be said that it is the only chapter in the novel that is quite jovial and light-hearted. Gaskells opening chapter contrasts with the rest of the novel this with the beauty of the field's contrasts with the industrial dirty town. The use of contrast carries on throughout the novel as Gaskell contrasts the lives of the rich and the poor this can been seen as she describes the house of the rich Carson's, ' In the luxurious library, at the well spread breakfast table, sat the two Mr Carson's father and son.' In contrast to the very poor Davenports cellar, ' and to see three or four little children rolling on the damp, nay wet brick floor, through which the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street oozed up; the fire place was empty and black'
Through her use of characterisations, it can be seen how Elizabeth Gaskell develops the ideas of prejudice, love and forgiveness. In the opening chapter, we only see a glimpse of John Barton's feelings towards the masters, his feelings of prejudice, but
this theme is shown later in depth, and is one of the main themes that runs throughout the novel. Gaskell achieves the narrative viewpoint of all her characters although this is not obvious in the opening chapter of the novel, as we only see John Barton's. John Barton is shown as a loving father in the beginning, it is only when his wife and son die in quick succession later in the novel do we see the change in his character. A clue to his later hate for his masters is shown when he says:
"If I am sick do they nurse me? If my child lays dying as poor tom lay, with his white wan lips quivering, for want of better food than I can give him), does the rich man bring the wine or broth that might save his life? If I am out of work for weeks in the bad times, and winter comes, with black frost, and keen east wind, and there is no coal for the grate, and no clothes for the bed, and the thin bones are seen through the ragged clothes, does the rich man share his plenty with me, as he ought to do, if his religion wasn't a humbug?..........No, I tell you, it's the poor and the poor only, as does such things for the poor."
Gaskell's theme of love is also shown in the chapter one. This is the love of Jem Wilson for Mary Barton. This too is a main theme of the novel, and as the novel continues, the couple and their relationship will become central to the story and its ending:
'When an over-grown lad came past her, and snatched a kiss, "for old acquaintance sake, Mary." ' "take that for old acquaintance sake, then" said the girl blushing rosy red, more with anger than shame, as she slapped his face.'
Gaskell shows Barton and Wilson discussing the disappearance of Barton's sister in law Esther. Esther had run away to become a lady and nobody knew where she has gone, through the characters of...