How can change be initiated?

The passage I chose is from the scene where Mr. Wilson visits the Carson household to seek aid for the Davenports.  While sitting in the kitchen as food is prepared around him, “Wilson began to yearn for food to break his fast, which had lasted since dinner the day before.  If the servants had known this, they would have willingly given him meat and bread in abundance; but they were like the rest of us, and, not feeling hunger themselves, forgot it was possible another might.  So Wilson’s craving turned to sickness…” (Gaskell, 67).  This excerpt, as well as the repeated use of diction related to desire such as “yearn,” “hunger,” and “craving,” illuminates how the lower class’ income is so poor that it leads to sparsity of basic necessities.  The absence of substantial meals is so severe that the hunger it results in for poorer people is a “sickness.”  Wilson’s silence and the servants’ ignorance means it is also an unacknowledged problem.  The rich and those who have submitted to them, like the servants in the Carson household, have such easy access to food that they do not even think of hunger, much less that someone may suffer from it.  Gaskell hints that so long as the poor remain silent and respectful and the rich remain uneducated and ignorant, nothing will change and the lower class will remain destitute.  The only way to bring about a better life for people in poverty is to either speak up and make the situation heard, work directly in servitude to the rich as the Carson servants have, or remind the rich what it’s like to be hungry.  The reason Wilson remains hungry is also the reason why Mary Barton and Harry Carson are a doomed relationship from the start.  Mary’s community is struggling, and her and her father’s meals are scant.  Harry is thriving, eating enough food to forget about hunger along with his family and the servants in his household.  Mary doesn’t dare mention her problems to Harry, and so Harry remains ignorant, and they are stuck at the same impasse as Wilson in the Carson kitchen.  On the other hand, John Barton has no qualms making the poverty of the working class known to the rich.  However, he travels down a darker path in which he would be satisfied dragging the rich down to his level, reminding them how hunger can result in “sickness.”  In this way, he is also doomed, forgetting his original purpose to obtain rights in favor of a determination for vengeance that is eating away at him.  The real Chartists outside of the novel, by persisting in their goal to change the law and obtain rights for the working class through more peaceful methods, are more successful in initiating change than Wilson, Mary, or John.  Reform Acts were passed after their dissolution in the late 1800s.  They were neither silent nor malevolent, and so were more successful in their goals for change.  Based on Gaskell’s depictions of lower class characters interacting with higher classes, she would be approving of the Chartists efforts and triumphs.

One thought on “How can change be initiated?”

  1. Hi Milligan! I really liked the quote you picked out, because I think it speaks a lot to Gaskell’s purpose in writing this novel. Gaskell’s writing is pretty straight-forward and transparent at times, but this seems like she is opening a direct window into her thoughts and intentions with her writing. Describing how the servants who work for the upper classes have forgotten what it feels like to be hungry, and Wilson starving as a result, is a direct call-out to the ignorance and complacency of the upper classes in the struggle for better working conditions. I also think that not only would Gaskell have approved of the efforts of the Chartists, I think that this novel was intended to actively support their cause and spread awareness of it.

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