Essay on Representations of Poverty and Inequality in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  3
Wordcount:  551 Words
Date:  2022-12-16


Elizabeth Gaskell's novel Mary Barton (1848), is a classic example of 19th-century literature of social protest. This novel portrays the hardships and inequalities that Manchester's working class faced during the industrial revolution. Gaskell's characters allow her to express her thoughts and feelings about the injustices of the unjust economic and social systems that were created.

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Mary Barton's Struggle for Survival

The main character, Mary Barton, is a young woman who is struggling to make ends meet in a society where the poor are treated as second-class citizens. She and her family live in abject poverty and are constantly struggling to survive. Mary’s father is a worker who is at the mercy of his employer and is constantly at risk of being laid off or having his wages reduced. This precariousness of employment and income affects the whole family’s ability to make ends meet. Mary’s mother is forced to take in laundry in order to supplement their income.

Gaskell also portrays the inequality between the working classes and the wealthy upper classes in the novel. The wealthy classes are seen as having all the power, while the working classes are portrayed as powerless and unable to do anything to improve their lot, even when they are victims of injustice. For example, when Mary’s father is wrongfully accused of murder and is subsequently arrested, he has no legal representation or money to hire a lawyer, leaving him defenceless.

Gaskell shows how the inequality and poverty experienced by working class people is not just economic. Mary's father is profoundly affected by his economic insecurity. He experiences shame, guilt, and despair. He feels he is failing to provide for his family and that he has let them down. Gaskell explains how the feeling of helplessness, hopelessness and despair is felt by many of the working class members.


Gaskell, through her characters, expresses anger at the injustices of the unjust economic and social systems that were created. She demonstrates how wealthy classes could use their power to oppress working class people and keep them poor. Gaskell's novel is an indictment of inequality and poverty that serves as a reminder about the need to promote social change and justice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for Essay:

How does Mary Barton represent a form of social protest in 19th-century literature?

Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton stands as an outstanding example of 19th-century literature of social protest. The narrative details the hardships and inequalities endured by Manchester workers during the industrial revolution, revealing many injustices of its time.

What are some examples of the hardships faced by Mary Barton and her family?

Mary and her family live in abject poverty, constantly struggling to make ends meet. Mary's father's employment status is uncertain, limiting their income potential further while Mary's mother takes on additional work to bolster the family income - only compounding their financial worries further.

How does Gaskell illustrate the power imbalance between the upper and working classes?

Gaskell depicts the wealthy upper classes as possessing all of the power, while depicting working class people as powerless to change their situation. Mary's father is unjustly accused of murder but lacks legal resources or legal representation to defend against this false accusation; thus leaving him vulnerable against being persecuted for such allegations.

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Essay on Representations of Poverty and Inequality in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton . (2022, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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