Marxist Analysis of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton and D.H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers

Paper Type:  Dissertation introduction
Pages:  8
Wordcount:  2043 Words
Date:  2022-12-08


Since time immemorial, literary works have mirrored the society in one way or another. Works of literature such as poems, fiction, plays, and stories have shown people's lifestyles, cultures, beliefs, and faiths throughout history as they transition between the primordial Palaeolithic epochs to the current Information Technology era. Elizabeth Gaskell and David Herbert Lawrence are some of the greatest writers who have attempted to depict the ethical values and ills of society through literary works.

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Born in Chelsea, London, in 1810, Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell wrote some of the greatest books of the era, which were majorly in reaction to the Industrialisation of Manchester - a place where she lived. In her first novel - Mary Barton - she provided a detailed portrait of the lives of the poor vis-a-vis that of the affluent on many strata of Manchester as a society. Mary Barton pays special attention to the Victorian working-class and carries out a dialectical and colloquial comparison of different classes of the economic spectrum.

On the other hand, D. H. Lawrence, born in England in 1885, became one of the most influential novelists and poets of the 20th century. In one of his novel volumes - Sons and Lovers - Lawrence paints a picture of his own life with shades of fiction. He uses a strong Nottinghamshire dialect with reflective aspects such as mine zones, and a rift between the proletariats - people who sell labor in a capitalist society - and the bourgeoisie - people with means of production who buy such labor. The novel pictures themes such as Oedipus complex, class, and gender.

Given the precis of the two Novels, this dissertation focuses on their analysis from the Marxism point of view. The paper is mainly interested in analyzing how Lawrence and Gaskell present industrialization and the indispensable outcomes of a capitalist community as a disease that disrupts the social and organic unity between humans and their natural abodes. Thus the framework of Marxist criticism, which provides a sharp divergence from rationalism and capitalism, has been used. In this first chapter, the Marxism framework has been used to examine the class struggle and the commercialization of working-class labor within a capitalist order. It also pays close attention to Marxist critics on Marxist criticism and how their ideologies are mirrored in the novels. It is imperative to understand reality as depicted in factual, mythical, and fictional inscriptions as incentives that drive historical processes to achieve constant reformation for social and moral good.

The Concept of Marxism and Marxist Criticism

Marxism is based on Karl Marx's school of thought, which was also influenced by Friedrich Hegel. At the heart of Marxism are concepts such as class differences, economic vicissitudes, and the capitalist system, which Karl Marx and other theorists in support of his school of thought argue that have led to an unnatural struggle between the oppressed and the oppressing and have undermined the natural utopia. The concept is interested in finding an answer as to whom human labor, efforts, policies, and actions benefit.

According to Marx, "stable societies always develop sites of resistance which are contradictions built into the social system that ultimately lead to social revolution and the development of a new society upon the old" (1088). The continued cycle of revolution yields struggles between the upper, middle, and the working class, which are usually reflected in literary texts such as poems, novels, stories, music, art, and movies. As the conflict balloon, Marx and his supporting theorists see an uprising led by the working class against the elite and the middle-class. At the threshold, it will burst to lead to an equal society with everyone owning everything leading to a utopian community. Conversely, they also see the struggle as the only way through which social transformation is abridged.

Marxists reasoning is based on a thought known as dialectical materialism, which links historical change to economic and social realities rather than ideological superstructures - the dominant class - of social aspects such as politics, religion, or the law. Marx and Engels presuppose that "we do not proceed from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as described, thought of, imagined, conceived, to arrive at the corporeal man; rather we proceed from the really active man . . . Consciousness does not determine life: life determines consciousness" (6). They argue that historical materialism, including aspects such as economic production, availability of labor, distribution of resources, and the need to make gains, is the precursor of human success.

From the arguments, principles, and practices developed by various Marxists, scores of commonalities emerge. First, the concept of capitalism is built on the notion that owners of means of production always exploit workers (Eagleton 18). Second, socioeconomic change is influenced by material conditions and the dominant class rather than social ideologies (19). Third, there are two classes in a society; the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (Wood 25). The proletariat sells labor-power through means of capitalism, while the latter are the owners of means of production buying labor-power offered by the proletariat. Finally, the conflicts and struggles between these two classes amount to historical changes.

Marxists believe that literature is never an ideology but a perfect reflection of the socioeconomic institutions from which it emerges and depicts class struggles and conflicts, the dominance of the superstructures, and the actual social characters. In this aspect, literature is seen as a mirage of the creator's class and impending class relations. The following section examines the class struggle and the commercialization of working-class labor within a capitalist order as eminent in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton and D.H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and how they affirm Marxists' claims.

Examination of the Novels within the Framework of Marxism

Class Consciousness

Any social class within the society has some degree of awareness of itself and the world around it, which informs its interests and the capacity to act on them. The concept of class consciousness gained momentum during the industrial revolution when social identity began to shift (Williams 21). Class consciousness is clearly painted in the two novels.

Numerous chapters of Mary Barton evoke the conflict between the bourgeois and the proletariat. For instance, John Barton, who was Mary's father and a poor worker, had great resentment against the rich and joined traders union that he may be able to cater to some of his needs as the employed (Gaskell 11). It appeared ironical for actual workers who thought that they were the real makers of wealth to find it challenging to afford bread due to lowered wages and tedious work (11). Given their awareness of their deplorable living conditions and suffering, they raised a petition to better the conditions. Upon the failure of the petition, the working class organized a strike against the bourgeoisie, which, at its climax, led to the death of the master's son, Harry Carson (205).

Lawrence also presents a family divided into two factions, primarily due to their consciousness about their class. The relationship between Walter Morel and Gertrude Morel is marred with the class division. Gertrude Morel is an educated and highly principled woman who believes that she married below her class, and she is profoundly disillusioned with the life of the low class (Lawrence 368). She was a daughter to a financially and socially superior family. She hates her husband for his demeaning principles and manners and decides to transfer her love to the sons, William Morel and Paul Morel.

On the other hand, Walter Morel is a mine worker who is barely literate and is an alcoholic. His wife and sons think of him as a villain making him an outcast in his own family. Paul, Walter's second son, often prayed, "Lord, let my father die" (Lawrence 95). However, he is a man dedicated to his work and remains loyal to his wife, even with the knowledge that she has no love for him. The family alienation breaks him, and he loses his sensuality, pride, and strength, making him a mean old man.

With capitalism came an immense emphasis on materialistic values, which, as the two authors present, ignited conflict and struggle between the dichotomous classes. Amidst the conflict is the complete identification of class. John Barton and Walter Morel are both prisoners of the industrial revolution and end up living in the dark alienated by the same people who should care for them and love them. Their oppressors form part of the dominant class as the oppressed remain in the lowest class in the society plagued with low wages, poor work conditions, and inability to meet personal and family needs. Thus the two authors depict a hegemonic society.

William claimed that effective self-identification among people within classes defines hegemony with the hegemonic forms (118). The conflicts usually lead to uncertainty of conventions, which, according to Williams (179), results in social restructuring and divisions, which goes typically deeper than imagined. Williams' argument explains why John Barton ended up vicious, killing his boss' son, Harry Carson, and Walter Morel ending up resentful with no shred of hope.

Exploitation and Alienation

Thomas (13) presupposes that in a capitalist society, the labor-power that workers generate is always in surplus to the wages that the workers get. The expropriation always leads to exploitation, alienation, and oppression of workers by the owners of the capital. The exploitation is primarily due to the fact that the employed usually have no control over the labor they provide and the resulting products (18). Lack of control has dire consequences such as social disintegration into polarised classes and the proliferation of hegemony.

An example of exploitation and alienation in Mary Barton, which, of course, emanates from class awareness, is seen in John Barton's monologue. John, through his awareness about his life as an oppressed worker, lamented;

And what good have they ever done me that I should like them? If I am sick, do they come and nurse me? If my child lies dying, does the rich man bring the wine or broth that might save his life...No, I tell you, it's the poor and the poor only, as does such things for the poor. ...We are their slaves as long as we can work; we pile up their fortunes with the sweat of our brows; yet we are to live as separate as if we were in two worlds; ay, as separate as Dives and Lazarus, with a great gulf betwixt us (Gaskell 12).

The novel continues to show a widening contrast of class difference with working-class living a miserable life while the employers live a spendthrift life. While Bartons sometimes stayed cold and hungry, Carson's youngest daughter believed that life was worthless without flowers and scents. In the exploitation paradigm, Gaskell presents a conflict that not only stems from the class struggle but also a lack of humanity between men.

For Sons and Lovers, the theme of exploitation and alienation is evident right from the beginning of the novel. In the first paragraph, the author uses unpropitious names such as "The Bottoms" and "Hell Row" to designate the dwellings of the colliers (Lawrence 3). Despite being working-class, the colliers, lived in the lowest strata of the society, pointing to the fact that their lives were perfectly alienated and discriminated from those of their masters. In the isolated place full of suffering as the author would later affirm, the Morels lived. From this stance, it seems that Lawrence was fully c...

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Marxist Analysis of Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton and D.H Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. (2022, Dec 08). Retrieved from

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