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Mary Barton

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Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary Barton. Ed. Edgar Wright. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Questia. 9 Mar. 2006.

In her novel, Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell delivers a powerful and descriptive account of the living conditions during the Industrial Revolution in Manchester, England. Gaskell is able to deliver such a story through her aggressive approach in detail. The novel portrays life in Manchester as brutal and depressing. As the reader you don't just review topics discussed in class but you get to apply in class discussions to interpret the characters and the era through their eyes.

I believe Gaskell provides an accurate portrayal of life in an industrial city in the mid nineteenth century. Living conditions are portrayed realistically and are not just byproducts of a fictitious story. The working conditions in the cotton mill run parallel with actual working conditions. There were women and children working, there were no safety standards and the employees were poorly paid. The novel focuses a lot of attention on the children in the story. There are several portions of the novel that deal with children who disappear, starve and get injured, "I've seen a father who had killed his child rather than let it clem before his eyes" (220). The struggle to survive was very vivid in the novel; characters had little economic flexibility and had to deal with the emotional burden cast by the horrible living conditions. The novel was also able to not just show the suffering endured by the workers, but also the indifference that the elite rich citizens showed towards those suffering. This aspect of the novel was crucial in demonstrating the true hardships the working lower class faced during the industrial revolution in England.

Life during the time period did not solely consist of hardships. Though the industrial revolution was oppressive to all workers, there were also times of joy. During the revolution people could indulge in the arts. They could not afford to go watch the exclusive plays and operas, but could compose their own art. There were street performers, music and the visual arts, "So age drew gently o'er each wearied sense, A deepening shade to smooth the parting hence. Each cherished accent, each familiar tone, Fell from her daily music, one by one; Still her attentive looks could rightly guess, What moving lips by sound could not express"(473). In the story Mary, daughter of John, is able to find love in such an evil place. Initially Mary wants to marry the son of the cotton mill owner for financial security. She later realizes that it is not what she wants and falls in love with Jem, a character that plaid a heroic role in the novel. This just illustrates different ways the working class could stay optimistic in such turmoil. Life was very rough and short for the working



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