‘Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society’ – Karl Marx: In light of this view examine how ‘classes have different class conditions, communities and values’ in both ‘North and South’ and ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’
Elizabeth Gaskell’s social novel is set in the industrial town of Milton in the North of England. Where protagonist Margaret has been involuntary forced out of her home and settles with her parents in Milton. The industrial revolution progressively takes impact leaving employers and workers clashing in the first organised strikes. Margaret is in favour of equality between the classe and among the working class citizens of Darkshire she encounters Bessy Higgins. The wedge between John Thornton, a mill manufacturer, and Margaret Hale steadily increases, yet, they confide in one another till the very end of the novel. The novel reflects Margaret’s understanding of the complexity of labour relations and her impact on mill owners, and her conflicted relationship with John Thornton. Similarly, George Orwell’s sociological investigation ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ accounts of the bleak living conditions among the working class in Lancashire in the first half of his work. The second half is an essay focused on middle-class upbringing and questioning British attitudes towards socialism. The investigation opens new ideas for readers about the conditions both working class and middle class faced, and challenges stereotypes attached to these classes. Ideas based on ‘class condition, community and values’ can be identified in both ‘North and South’ and ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. Both authors share a similar view on society and sympathise for the working class throughout the texts.
Point 1: ‘Class Conditions’
The ‘class’ system in society is explored in both literary texts, Gaskell clearly delves into how classes are portrayed in ‘North and South’ and uses the locations of Milton and Hampshire, to indicate the mannerisms of the upper class and lower class. Margaret notices people from the north dressed differently ‘most of them well-dressed as regarded the material, but with a slovenly looseness which struck Margaret as different from the shabby, threadbare smartness of a similar class in London.’ Gaskell uses concrete vocabulary such as ‘shabby’ and ‘material’ to create visual imagery for the readers to distinguish between the classes in different locations. The word ‘struck’ encapsulates the impact Margret had from the observing the dirty loose ‘well-dressed’. As well as the term ‘slovenly’ highlighting how untidy and dirty citizens of Darkshire looked, alluding to the idea that many of these people in ‘slovenly’ ‘material’ did not care much of their appearance. In comparison to the south, people have cheaper, but more stylish clothing, which help identify the two class sets present in society. This leads to the idea that groups of people from different towns dress differently, but, could be identified what class set they belonged to by looking at their attire. However, it could be argued working class individuals dress this out as a result of low income. Another way in which Gaskell represents class is through individual occupation and explores the conditions that the working class labour in. Nicholas Higgins clearly addresses the matter regarding the abominable conditions the working class are forced to work in. As a result of these working condition it has left Higgins’ daughter terminally ill; ‘what wi' hard work first, and sickness at last, hoo's led the life of a dog. And to die without knowing one good piece o' rejoicing in all her days!’. With ‘work’ coming first and ‘sickness’ (health) coming after this echoes what society thought was more important at the time. This led to organised strikes that occurred within the trade union where a group of workers would come together to fight for their rights and will attempt to challenge the current system. Gaskell uses working class attire and working conditions in order to show how working class was represented during the 1800s.