Willful ignorance and stagnation

For my analysis I primarily focused on the line “I’ll do my best, and yo see now, if better times don’t come after Parliament knows all.” found in the first paragraph on page 89 of Mary Barton. While this line alone does not give the reader very much information, when read with the understanding of the information around it, the line stands out like blood on the page. The line itself is a statement of hope in regards to a most likely, unobtainable future. The line hinges a possible path to the better future on the idea that one day Parliament will know all of the struggles and suffering of the working class and, in knowing, will choose to make life better for them. This line is said by John Barton at the end of a meeting that was held in his home. Prior to stating this line, three men including John Barton spoke on the current state of the working class. The first man spoke of the way that the implementation of heavy machinery has harmed the working conditions and, as a result, the overall life experience of the poor working class. He primarily speaks of how the working class are expected to work far longer hours than they were before. He brings to light how, during the industrial revolution, with the increase of machinery and the normalization of a factory, the amount of work went up while the amount of pay stayed the same and with the newly developed machinery, the poor were more likely to dismember themselves and otherwise injure themselves.  

The second man spoke of a rich man who wore two shirts when most other people in the surrounding community could barely afford the one shirt. He even brings up how the weaver and seamstress of the rich man could not afford to be well dressed. This man discusses how the average man could barely afford to live while the upper class was continuing to profit off the labor of those same poor working class people. This issue that the second speaker boldly brings to light is something that was utterly devastating for the poor people of the time. John Barton, the third speaker, recaps the previously discussed topics in a somewhat detached way. He also regularly says that he believes that if only parliament knew what was happening they would not stand for the way that the poor working class people were living. This hope however, completely ignores the words of the second man who speaks on how the wealthier man knew how the poor were living and did nothing. This approach to the situation paints the gruesome life and suffering of the poor as one of hope and potential for better. The fact that John Barton had to have ignored the words of the second speaker in order to have this hope, paints the living conditions of the working class as one that would require ignoring key aspects of their life just to have hope in a better future.  

2 thoughts on “Willful ignorance and stagnation”

  1. It is interesting that you point out John Barton willingly ignores a possibility of failure to be hopeful. And as we see in the novel, he didn’t stay that way for long. And as the second man points out: the rich know and still don’t do anything because they don’t care. I think this is what Gaskell might be showing through the book. Henry Carson knows Mary is poor but thinks that he is helping her by marrying her. The Carsons and their fellowmen know the working men are poor but still refuse to give in to the demand of raise wages. John Barton and his Union speak up multiple times about the conditions of the working men but they are all shut down. It seems that Gaskell is trying to say that knowing alone is not enough. Something else is needed so that changes can happen.

  2. This post was super interesting and I thought your observations were great. I especially resonate with the part of your post that talks about how John Barton ignored the wealthier man, who is higher in class, and did nothing to assist the lower class. This is also interesting given how John Barton hopes for assistance from parliament once they realize the issues with the struggling middle class. It’s strange that John Barton assigns blame to parliament and gives the upper class a pass, even though like the second man said, they are partially to blame. Overall, great post and analysis of a tricky quote!

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