Depiction of Inequality in Victorian Society in Literature Works Pygmalion, Romeo and Juliet and Jane Eyre
Society in the 19th to the turn of 20th century Britain was governed by social class, marriage, and religion. In the Victorian era, women were obligated to dedicate her life solely to her home, her family, and most important her husband. George Bernard Shaw’s, Pygmalion and Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre illustrates an individual ability to move from social class with the intention to advance in society.
The play and novel are set in Victorian England where social class plays a major factor in an individual’s everyday life. The novel also highlights the individual’s social gap and how big it is. Romeo and Juliet and Jane Eyre emphasize the importance one has to get married, to not look down upon. In The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Jane Eyre highlight religious hypocrisy that was prominent in the Victorian Era. The play’s, Pygmalion and Romeo and Juliet, and the novel’s Jane Eyre and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were influenced by social class, marriage, and religion.
To begin, the novel Jane Eyre and the play Pygmalion were affected by social class. In Victorian society, it becomes harder for the poor to get rich, while the rich get everything. Jane’s father was a poor clergyman who married Jane’s mother a middle class woman. Her father’s education helped him to elevate himself from poor people, and her mother’s social status lowered from the class she had been born into. Jane’s class status is lowered when her parents died and she becomes an orphan. Jane grows up with the Reeds’ in Gateshead, she is not fully acknowledged as a member of the Reed family because of her parent’s marrying outside of their social class. Because of this, she is abused by her family members. This ill-treatment is clearly shown when John Reed tells Jane that she has “no money, your father left you none; you ought to beg, and not live with gentlemen’s children like us” (Charlotte Brontë 10).
Even though Jane is blood related to the Reed’s she is still abused because she was born into the working class. Jane is given away like she is trash as she is sent to study at the boarding school Lowood. When Jane is about to go to Lowood, Aunt Reed lies and tells the headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, that she has “a tendency to deceit” (Bronte 32). Jane is denounced and labeled as a threat and a horrible child by Mr. Brocklehurst. Mr. Brocklehurst forces the other girls to not talk to her for the rest of the day and publicly humiliates her. This treatment reflects the Victorian Class ideologies in which people who belong to the lower class are interpreted as a sign of physical and spiritual failure. As a governess, Jane is intellectually on the same ranking as someone from an upperclass background, yet she is talked down as if she comes from a lower class. She is neither a member of the family nor is she a servant. Jane is often talked down to by Blanch Ingram and other Victorian woman because she is a governess. When many upperclass men and women come to Thornfield, they are quick to make a harsh judgement of Jane.
When Blanche is speaking to Mr. Rochester at one of the social gatherings at Thornfield, she asks Mr. Rochester about Jane and where she is, “Oh, no! There she is still behind the window-curtain. You pay her, of course. I should think it quite as expensive” (Bronte 178). Jane overhears this conversation in which Blanche express her prejudice against governess’ and other members of the lower class. Instead of respecting governess’, Blanche mocks them and without consideration for Jane’s presence in the room. When anyone would bring up that Jane is not as low as the servants, Blanche is quick to reject the notion reminding everyone that Jane is beneath them. Blanche claims that she has one word to say of the whole tribe, they are a nuisance. In her mind, a governess is nothing more than a servant and does not deserve any respect. The whole Ingram family has a negative attitude towards governess’, which is not uncommon among many Victorian women. Blanche even admits that “the word [governess] makes me nervous” (Bronte 179). Given these points, Blanche uses her social status power from being apart of the upper class to belittle Jane because she is from the working class. Similarly, Pygmalion exemplifies how simply what social standing you hold, demonstrates your equality as humans.
At the beginning of the play, Eliza is described by Mr. Higgins that “she is no doubt as clean as she can afford to be; but compared to the ladies she is very dirty” (Shaw 29). Though this is the first time Higgins has met Eliza, she is faced with harsh judgment by her appearance. This perception is a common representation on how many of the rich viewed the poor through just appearance and speech. Members of the lower class were seen as dirty and disgraceful because of the way they dressed and spoked, which was why many people distanced themselves to not be seen associating with them. Later when Eliza is given the luxury to bathe, she transforms into someone from a higher class based on solely her appearance. She is given new clothes and is not even recognized by her own father. “Beg Pardon, miss. Eliza: Garn! Don ‘t you know your own daughter? Alfred: Bly me! Its Eliza.” (Shaw 32). While appearance is a main factor in determining your social class, speech was vital in knowing what social standing the person had. By changing the way Eliza spoke she was able to join the ranks of the upper class. In the play the upper class characters speak with what they claim is proper english, but at Mrs. Higgins home many think that Eliza’s slang is a new form of small talk, “well I really can’t get used to the new ways” (Shaw 43). Showing that there was nothing improper about the way people from a lower class background spoke. Consequently, the novel Jane Eyre and the play Pygmalion were heavily impacted by social class.
In addition, the play Romeo and Juliet and the novel Jane Eyre were both effected by the theme of marriage. In Romeo and Juliet and Jane Eyre, the partner’s social status and wealth were a main factor in marriage. Romeo and Juliet and Jane and Mr. Rochester are a critic of this importance in their society and instead marry for love and not social standing. While Juliet does not care for Romeo’s status as a Montague, she questions if his love is honorable as that is most important to her. In Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet realizes that Romeo overheard her declare her love for him. She talks about Romeo in an intimate, loving way and is very conflicted on her love for him because he is a Montague, who are enemies of the Capulets. Juliets love for Romeo is so strong that she swears that she will get rid of her family name and leave them just to be with Romeo. While she is embarrassed of Romeo overhearing her, Romeo is touched by her declaration of love for him and does the same by swearing that “[his] name, dear saint, is hateful to [himself] because it is an enemy to thee (2.2.60-61)”.
Romeo also would rather die than live without Juliet’s love. Juliet is worried that her family would find out about Romeo, but Romeo doesn’t care if they find out “And but thou love me, let them find me here: My life were better ended by their hate, Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love” (2.2.81-83). Juliet is touched by Romeo’s declaration of love for her, but she is uncertain that this love is not as sincere as he trying to seem. So in order to prove that Romeo truly loves her, Juliet asks him to marry her for an honorable love. Romeo eventually says goodbye to Juliet and promises her “if that thy bent of love be honorable, the purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow'(2.2.149-150). Juliet then replies wishing that he give her the details of where they could get married so she can love him forever.
The play Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, shows how Juliet desire to wed Romeo for love despite coming from families who are sworn enemies breaks the traditional way of marrying at the time. In Victorian courtships, marriage between two persons was permitted so long as the couple intending to marry belonged to the same class. Jane’s mother marrying out of the upper class into the lower class was shameful. Her mother was disowned and humiliated by her own family because she has married into a lower social class. Jane recalls hearing the story of how her “father had been a poor clergyman; that my mother had married him against the wishes of her friends, who considered the match beneath her; that my grandfather Reed was so irritated at her disobedience, he cut her off without a shilling” (Brontë 63). Overall, Jane’s mother marrying out of her social class affected the treatment of Jane by others in the Victorian society. This event forced Jane to believe that the man she had fallen in love with was going to marry another woman because of her social standing. ‘He is not of their kind. I believe he is of mine, I am sure he is, I understand the language of his countenance and movements though rank and wealth sever us widely”(Brontë 85). While having guests over at Thornfield Jane observes how Mr. Rochester interacts with the guests and comes to the conclusion that he is better off with someone of his social standing rather than her.
Finally, Mr. Brocklehurst from Jane Eyre and Mr. Honeythunder from The Mystery of Edwin Drood are both religious hypocrites who represent the broken Victorian society. Mr. Brocklehurst clearly embodies the hypocrisy of misguided religion. In chapter 7 he demands that one of the students have their red, curly hair cut off because he believes that curly hair goes against the teachings of the bible and that hair should “not conform to nature” (Brontë 61). Then coming to his family, Mrs. and Miss. Brocklehurst adorn themselves in french curls. Mr. Brocklehurst calls for his students to dress plainly and modestly. Yet this modesty is not found in his own family for their entry alls for silence while all eyes turn to look at the well-dressed women.
Mr. Brocklehurst represents Victorian society because of his unfair social dominance he has over the girls at Lowood. Victorian society was controlled by social class and hierarchy and people very rarely moved from the class in which they were born. He only shows kindness to people with money and allows his family to go against his teachings merely because they are apart of the upper class. Similarly Mr. Honeythunder is a public philanthropist who knows what is best for people better than they know themselves and shares his opinions with people weather asked for or not.
When Mr. Honeythunder announces that he is bringing his wards at Cloisterham, Mr. Crisparkle invites everyone to welcome the new students. Mr. Honeythunder is constantly criticizing everything and giving solutions although it was not his place. For example when one did not agree with him on a topic he would call aloud “curse your souls and bodies, come here and be blessed” (Drood 59). This entitlement can be seen in Mr. Brocklehurst and in Victorian society as well. Both Mr. Honeythunder and Mr. Brocklehurst care more about other’s wrongdoing than their own and because they come from the upper class, they believe that they have a power advantage over those in social classes under them. As shown above, Mr. Brocklehurst from Jane Eyre and Mr. Honeythunder from The Mystery of Edwin Drood are both religious hypocrites who speak to the broken Victorian culture.
In the final analysis, all three texts including, Jane Eyre, Pygmalion, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood were shaped by social class, marriage, and religion. Jane Eyre and Pygmalion affirm how the Victorian society was very corrupt, capturing the challenges Jane has to face a governess in the novel and the struggles Eliza Doolittle had to face from the elites. Jane Eyre and Romeo and Juliet both defy the traditional way of marriage and marry for love and not social standing. The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Jane Eyre maintain the religious bigots who embody the Victorian society at the time.
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