Mary Barton By Elizabeth Gaskell Essay

1666 words - 7 pages

Through attention to detail, repeated comparison, shifting tone, and dialogue that gives the characters an opportunity to voice their feelings, Elizabeth Gaskell creates a divide between the poor working class and the rich higher class in Mary Barton. Gaskell places emphasis on the differences that separate both classes by describing the lavish, comfortable, and extravagant life that the wealthy enjoy and compares it to the impoverished and miserable life that the poor have to survive through. Though Gaskell displays the inequality that is present between both social classes, she also shows that there are similarities between them. The tone and diction change halfway through the novel to highlight the factors that unify the poor and rich. In the beginning of the story John Barton exclaims that, “The rich know nothing of the trials of the poor…” (11), showing that besides the amount of material possessions that one owns, what divides the two social classes is ability to feel and experience hardship. John Barton views those of the upper class as cold individuals incapable of experiencing pain and sorrow. Gaskell, however proves Barton wrong and demonstrates that though there are various differences that divide the two social classes, they are unified through their ability to feel emotions and to go through times of hardship. Gaskell’s novel reveals the problematic tension between the two social classes, but also offers a solution to this problem in the form of communication, which would allow both sides to speak of their concerns and worries as well as eliminate misunderstandings.
Initially Gaskell creates a rift between the social classes by comparing the differences in their residences and lifestyles. The scene where John Barton and George Wilson visit the home of Ben Davenport is contrasted with the scene when Wilson visits John Carson’s home. Through this comparison, Gaskell shows the reader that economic inequality has left the working class and upper class living in seemingly separate worlds. After the fire at the Carson mill, Mr. Carson sees it as an opportunity to buy new machinery and take time off work to relax and enjoy the company of his family; while as a result of the loss of his job at the mill, Davenport and his family have been driven to the point of starvation and are forced to live in deplorable conditions. Gaskell describes Davenport’s home and the dreary setting in detail noting the darkness of the cellar, the dampness of the floor, the putrid stench, and the lack of furniture which creates a feeling of desolation and despair. When Barton attempts the feed Mrs. Davenport “The mouth opened mechanically to receive more, and gradually she revived.” (62) The use of the word “mechanically” likens Mrs. Davenport to a machine or robot which shows how poverty and hardship has stripped her of human emotions and behavior. Set up as a contrast to the gloomy scene of Davenport’s cellar is Mr. Carson’s house, which is described as...

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