‘in Her Preface to Mary Barton, Gaskell Writes "I Know Nothing of Political Economy of the Theories of Trade. I Have Tried to Write Truthfully." What Kinds of Truths Does She Attempt to Convey?

Topics: Upper class, Social class, Working class Pages: 4 (1496 words) Published: March 29, 2006
Although ‘Mary Barton' is a novel the revolves around the effects of the industrialisation in and around Manchester, Gaskell is right in claiming that she rejects the notions of political economy and trade theories. It is a novel that is centralised around the people involved, rather than the trade itself. She uses the lives and the ups and downs of the people of Manchester to paint a vision of the effects of the politics and economy of the time and these are the ‘truths' she tries to convey. This shows a very different side to what can be gained from the scientific and statistical interpretations of this age. Gaskell writes the truths of what was happening to the everyday working man as a result of the great changes and effects of the ‘hungry forties', and Mary Barton is seen as ‘a sympathetic, truthful portrayal of ordinary people struggling with rapid social change and overcrowded cities'. This is shown on several different levels, with the most prominent being through Gaskell's setting of historical context, her clear and vivid descriptions of domestic life and surroundings, and her methods of characterisation. Gaskell's frequent implications and mentions of the radical movements of this age are very effective in gaining an insight into the working classes view of the political, economic and social truths of 1840s Britain. As later discussed concerning the character of John Barton, Gaskell incorporates the consequences and strains of the radical Chartist movement into the lives of many characters and their families. References of real life marches in major cities such as the one in London ‘we were all set to walk in procession, and a time it took to put us in order, two and two, and the petition, as was yards long, carried by the foremost pairs.' And the travelling of delegates sets the novel into a non-fictional based historical context which provides an accurate truth of the time. The major involvement of developed characters like John Barton and Job Legh...

References: of real life marches in major cities such as the one in London ‘we were all set to walk in procession, and a time it took to put us in order, two and two, and the petition, as was yards long, carried by the foremost pairs. ' And the travelling of delegates sets the novel into a non-fictional based historical context which provides an accurate truth of the time. The major involvement of developed characters like John Barton and Job Legh makes it closer into a domestic and ‘real ' context as the reader sees the upsetting effect radicalism can have when it starts to become more of a priority than personal issues. Mary 's relationship with her father in particular, deteriorates over time and although one can believe they remain to love each other very much, John becomes distanced from his only family member. This is illustrated clearly through her feelings on discovery of her father 's guilt to murder; ‘Her love for her father seemed to return with painful force, mixed up as it was with the horror of his crime. ' The tool of historical fact makes the truths of everyday working class life all the more authentic to the time, integration of the effects of political influence into a domestic and emotional environment.
The truths of the destitution and poverty linked with the political, economic and social aspects of the age are clearly conveyed through Gaskell 's accurate and vivid descriptions of contrasting domestic environments. This can be divided into groups namely the lowest, with Old Alice and the Davenports, the more comfortable such as the Barton 's and Wilson 's then the sickening selfish grandeur of the Carson 's household. Old Alice 's dwellings, although the ‘perfection of cleanliness ', consist of a dark and damp cellar room. The Davenports household is even more dire and paints a picture of the worst kind of poverty, with the ‘damp, nay wet, brick floor; through which the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street oozed up ' which becomes a catalyst for Barton 's mission against the oppression of the rich. Although Barton 's and Wilson 's houses are modest they seem a lot more comforting and homely in comparison, although it is obvious through the constant sickness and hunger that they fall into the bracket of the working class in need to change. The Carson house is an image of grandeur and luxury, where the ambience is always rosy and full of cheer which points most blame onto them for their extravagance during the working classes ' most desperate times of need. These truths of settings and lifestyle provide a basis for much of the storyline of the novel as well as setting the opposing classes worlds apart.
Throughout the novel, the key characters are developed in such a way that they seem personify and caricature the different elements of the working classes. The three main ones that seem to display the most ‘truth ' of the time are Mary Barton, John Barton and Harry Carson. Mary Barton represents the developing modern woman of the age. Brought up without a mother, she becomes everything to her father but at the same time develops her own mind and independence which defines her as one of the strongest female characters of the novel. Living in meagre conditions with her father often unemployed and only earning from his wages from the Union, Mary has grown up in the reality of everyday poverty. However, with her own independent earnings as a seamstress she begins to carve out her own route into working life avoiding the dubious route of the factories. With strong characters such as Margaret as her close companions, despite facing the timeless female crises of relationships and love interests within the plot-related elements of the text, Mary Barton emerges as a worldly and headstrong woman. The reality of poverty of the time which effected thousands of women in the ‘hungry forties ' in Britain created a new generation of women who had to contribute to earning, and not be merely domesticated and this is one of the truths of the time as portrayed in the character of Mary.
John Barton equally becomes used as a kind of stereotype of the age, being shown as a representative of the working man seeking change. ‘A chartist, a communist.. ' His good and tender nature is clearly expressed through his adoration of his family, which becomes a justification of his changes in character after his wife 's death. However, there remains moments of compassion through his nursing of the Davenports and his grief of his good friend George Wilson 's death. This good nature was a reflection of many an honest, everyday working class man. However, Gaskell shows the influences that radical movements such as Chartism could have upon the ordinary man 's life and prospects. In a way, this conveys the sacrifices many men were willing to make for the sake of future generations of working classes, even to the low depths of murder. It makes John Barton ‘so strange, so cold, so hard ' and with Mary the reader gains an insight into his decline into centralising his life around the Union and the seeking of the greater good.
Harry Carson is stereotypically demonised in the novel representing the face of capitalism and exploitation of the age, in every aspect even down to his meddling with Mary. The handsome, sophisticated and supposedly respected figure of Carson is not with readers ' sympathies as he holds Mary 's affections instead of with Jem 's, the underdog and the hero. This is more plot-based but a deeper reading suggests this is Gaskell 's way of creating a dislike for this personification of bourgeois culture that made working class lifestyle a misery. The chapter ‘Mr Carson 's intentions revealed ' becomes the turning point in Mary 's life and all empathy towards his character is promptly lost. His physical treatment and scoffing upon Mary ‘you little witch!
I shall keep you prisoner! Tell me now what has made you run away from me so fast these last few days- tell me you sweet little coquette! ' becomes a portrayal of the upper class repression and power in this industrial age. This idea is furthered by Mary 's persistence to deny her love for him, indicating the paralleling working class action against their exploitation through movements such as Chartism. Even in death, Carson maintains his higher ground above Jem, the everyday man, as he becomes the first suspect for his murder. Gaskell primarily uses the character of Carson to convey the truths of the influence and power of the upper classes of this age.
It is clear to see why Gaskell made such a comment in her preface, as for a relatively comfortably living and successful woman it could be argued that she would indeed have little knowledge of the complexities of working class life in the ‘hungry forties '. However, although she makes great importance of historical facts, it never overtakes the characterisation and plot of a novel. Despite it being vital to the accuracy of the historical context, Gaskell makes more of a point to develop characters into representations of the reality of the era, and uses vivid description of setting providing an image to justify the consequences of the novel. Thus Gaskell produces a very sympathetic, and from the point of view of thousands of suffering working classes of 1840s Britain, truthful novel.
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