Literary Comparisons of Revolutionary France
The period of time in France prior to the French Revolution was know as the ancien regime, which translates to, “the old way.” This was a time where if you were fortunate enough to be born into an upper class family, you lived very well, but if you were not so lucky, you lived quite miserably. Chances were, however, that you did not belong to this upper class society. Only about three percent of the population made up this class and consisted of nobles and the clergy. The remaining 97% was referred to as the third estate and included middle class merchants and professionals, collectively known as the bourgeoisie, as well as the farmers and peasants.
The third estate essentially was France’s economy at that time. “This complicated tax system was both inefficient and unfair,” (Hanson 34). The upper class enjoyed many privileges such as tax exemptions that the third estate did not have. Therefore, the third estate basically funded the wealth and luxury of the upper class. When the economy slumped, the already struggling peasants were asked to contribute more. It is estimated that peasants “paid direct taxes equal to 50 to 60 percent of his gross harvest. Given that a fifth to a quarter of the harvest had to be saved for seed for the following year, this left very little grain for the family to consume,” (Hanson 34).
Needless to say, with this state of economic instability and unhappiness among the masses, a drastic change (i.e. the Revolution) was inevitable. The works of many writers influenced these changes. Three such authors were Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, and Emanuel-Joseph Sieyes and are known for their respective works, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, and What is the Third Estate? Each writer succeeds in pointing out the faults of France’s current social structure, primarily the rights and privileges of the aristocracy, and influences change to occur.
Rousseau criticizes the aristocracy by pointing out that the only reason that they are in their current position is because of the family they were born into. Throughout his discourse, he points out that there are two types of inequalities that exist, natural and unnatural. A natural inequality would be something such as size or strength that gives one person an advantage over another. An unnatural inequality is something such as family privileges or inherited property where a person has an advantage due to the family they were born.
Throughout Rousseau’s discourse, he explains in a scientific manner the progression of natural inequalities leading to unnatural inequalities along with the development of man. During this discussion, Rousseau touches upon three main topics; the purposes of society, the nature of man, and the origin of inequality.
The purpose of society is to allow all individuals to co-exist and help each other out by having...