Compare and contrast the issue of class relations in any two Victorian novels.
Silas Marner (“SM”) by George Eliot and Mrs Warren’s Profession (“MWP”) by George Bernard Shaw can be compared in terms of their presentation of the morality of different characters, the happiness they eventually obtain and the interdependence between social classes in society. Both Silas Marner and Mrs Warren’s Profession implies that social class does not define the morals of a person. On the other hand, they differ in terms of how they portray the attainment of happiness. Social Class matters little in SM with regards to the eventual happiness whilst in MWP happiness seems to be heavily hinged upon one’s social position.
Both Silas Marner and Mrs Warren’s Profession are similar in terms of how they portray the relation between social class and morality. In Silas Marner, social class does not define the morals of a person. One in the upper class is not necessarily more moral than one of the lower class. In Silas Marner’s case, most of the people of the lower classes are more moral than people of the higher classes. This is shown through the comparison of the morality of Silas and Godfrey. In meeting with a vulnerable and helpless child – Eppie, Silas readily takes Eppie in as his adopted child without hesitation. The visual image of Silas, who is a member of the working class of society, who “took [Eppie] on his lap”, shows how he gives in to taking care of Eppie so simply, an act that symbolically shows Silas embracing Eppie into his life as his adopted child. Instead of disregarding Eppie, since she is a stranger to him, where he has no obligation to care for her, especially for the rest of his life, Silas embraces her appearance in his life without much thought. This shows the goodness in Silas, that he is willing to bear the responsibility of bringing up and caring for and loving a child who was not born of his own flesh. This is in strong contrast to Godfrey, a member of the upper class. Silas is much more moral than Godfrey is, who chose to disregard Eppie as his child. Upon realising Eppie was in Silas’s hands in Silas’s cottage, Godfrey had “rushed out of the house” and “disappeared”. The visual image of Godfrey going out of Silas’s cottage rapidly, where Eppie, his biological daughter, was at, shows how he intentionally and purposefully wanted to leave his daughter behind, and not let anyone find out about his relation to her. When Godfrey “disappeared” from the cottage, it was a symbol for him vanishing and dying out from Eppie’s life. Silas was at first perceived as a “spider”, working at his loom in a mechanical fashion seemingly devoid of emotions and morality. However, the contrast between his later actions and Godfrey’s abandonment of his daughter makes it clear in SM that one’s moral strength and character is independent of their social class.
This proves Silas’s level of morality to be high, instead of what most people think of him, as a “spider” who spends majority of his time at his “loom”. A spider weaves all day and night, having a mechanical characteristic of continuous and unchanging work. When Silas is being compared to a spider, it is difficult to see the emotions and morality within him, as he is not given the opportunities to show them. Hence, these evidences prove that Silas is more moral than what people had thought of him at first at Raveloe. This also shows that although many of the working class may work hard day and night and may seem heartless or unfeeling, they may just not have had the opportunities to show their morality, and may be more moral than how they are being viewed in society.
To Godfrey, because he was afraid that his reputation would be tarnished if the community had known about his affair with a “fallen woman” – Molly, Godfrey chooses to keep his reputation of being in the landed gentry and the upper class of society intact over choosing to care for his own child – Eppie. Normally, parents are expected to care and take responsibility for their own children no matter the situations. Thus, in pushing away his responsibility, this shows Godfrey’s moral cowardice, as he dare not admit his mistakes, nor take responsibility for his actions. This contrasting image of Silas, who is of the working class, embracing Eppie, a complete stranger, with the image of Godfrey, who is of the upper class, vanishing from Eppie’s sight, shows how the social class does not necessarily dictate the level of morality of a person; one of the upper class is not necessarily more moral than one of the lower class.
Similarly, in Mrs Warren’s Profession, social class does not define the morals of a person. One in the upper class is not necessarily more moral than one of the lower class. Characters in Mrs Warren’s Profession are mostly portrayed as immoral in different ways, regardless of their social class. Reverend Gardner is a religious leader who holds significant social power in his position. In the case of Reverend Gardner, a church leader, someone of higher class than the average citizen, he mentions to his son Frank, “I was speaking of higher things. Social position”. A church leader thinking of social position as “higher things” is ironically in contrast with what is expected of him to think of, where “higher things” should include spiritual truth, well-being, and morality. Social position is a worldly concept, and most often immoral and selfish, which a Reverend should be expected to disregard. In preaching about social position to his own son as “higher things”, this shows the hypocrisy of the Reverend. He is putting on a facade of a “Reverend”, which connotes holiness and leadership, but in private with a family member he admits that priority and importance should be placed on worldly concepts like social position. This shows that even though people are high in the social class, they may not necessarily possess higher morality.
Comparably, the people of the working class may not necessarily be moral as well. This can be seen in the way Mrs Warren treats her relationship with her daughter. She asks Vivie with a “[cunning gleam]”, “Wasn’t it enough?… I’ll double it”. The constant reference of money in the pursuit of Mrs Warren to keep her daughter staying with her shows how transactional she sees her relationship with her daughter to be. Her expression was speaking of money to Vivie shows how she doesn’t genuinely care for her daughter, but is merely intending to show her prowess at producing large amounts of cash, any amount that Vivie may propose to her. Her “cunning” expression can also imply her predatory characteristic over Vivie, her own daughter, whom she is supposed to care for and love, instead of manipulating her with money. As a mother, she is expected to cherish and love her daughter genuinely, instead of bringing manipulations and materialism into her life. Thus, Mrs Warren can be seen as an immoral mother of the working class, for not showing sincerity in caring for her own child and only treating her relationship with her daughter as a transactional one. This examples of immoral people from both the upper class and the working class show how social class does not dictate a persons level of morality.
On the other hand, Silas Marner and Mrs Warren’s Profession differ in terms of the concept of the attainment of happiness in life. In Silas Marner, whether a person attains happiness or not in the end, regardless of social class, is dependent on what he or she deserves by their active moral or immoral choices in life. This can be clearly seen in the Cass’, who come from a wealthy family yet make immoral choices that deprive them of their happy endings. In Dunstan’s case, where he is of the upper class, he made immoral choices throughout the duration of the novel. Dunstan, who makes immoral choices throughout the novel ultimately dies in a miserable manner. Dunstan was a thief and a cheat, stealing from the “rent of Fowler’s” and Silas’ cottage. He also manipulates his brother to profit from his misfortune. At the end of the novel, he dies in a stone pit with only a skeleton left. The visual image of decay shows how pathetic his ending was, one that he only deserves because of his active and immoral choices. In a “mocking tone” Dunstan speaks to Godfrey, indicating his disrespect for his own brother and even threatening his brother, even though in the Victorian Era, families are especially expected to be the moral haven for people, where members of the family help and care for each other, which is the opposite of the relationship between Dunstan and Godfrey Cass. Families of the upper class are especially expected to be the moral haven for family members, since in the Victorian Era, as the queen of Great Britain, the highest social status of the aristocracy and whole of Britain, Queen Victoria showed how her own family is a moral haven. However, the Cass family is the opposite of a moral haven. Dunstan stole both from the “rent of Fowler’s”, and from Silas’s “bag” of gold. The act of stealing itself is immoral, and Dunstan does this twice without relenting. In the end, right after stealing Silas’s gold, he drowns in the stone pit, “his skeleton” only found at the end of the novel. The visual image of decay of Dunstan’s body is parallel to the degeneration of his morality. As he had done so many things immorally in his life that showed his continual moral degeneration, he deserved death and decay of his own body, that he becomes just a mere skeleton, showing how pathetic Dunstan had became in the end. In the end, Dunstan will never attain life nor happiness, like the decay and vanishing of his own flesh from his mere skeleton. The visual image of his skeleton also shows how incomplete his body is, being parallel to the incompleteness of his being, morality, and mental capacity for happiness. Furthermore, Godfrey – whose “religion will infallibly be the worship of blessed Chance” – brought about the unhappiness of having no officially recognised children of his own. The upper class in society should be the ones setting an example for a true believe in religion of the community, as a Christian or a Catholic, as they are being viewed highly by the general population, who are likely to follow in their footsteps. However, by capitalising the first letter of “Chance”, Godfrey is essentially speaking of chance as a god, when it is merely just a worldly concept of coincidences. He dedicated his entire life to chances and coincidences, without making any active moral decisions of his own, indicating his moral cowardice to act out moral things.
His failure to acknowledge first Molly Farren, then Eppie, leads to his unhappiness in having a childless hearth. Godfrey lacks the moral courage to legitimize his marriage with a “fallen woman” and marries instead Nancy – whom turns out cannot have children. He also lacked the moral courage to acknowledge Eppie, which results in her eventually rejecting him for Silas. Hence, Eliot portrays that inactivity of morality or the making of immoral choices leads to a person not deserving happiness in the end. Thus, in the end, he is being left childless by having the chance to marry a woman who is unable to give birth, and that Eppie chanced upon Silas to be eventually taken care of Silas for the rest of her life.
Nonetheless, in Silas’s case, where he is one of the working lower class, he took the moral step to adopt Eppie, a complete stranger, and to love and care for her as his own child, “when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups were thick in the meadows”. The “sunshine” growing “strong and lasting” is a parallel of nature to Silas’s continual and sincere love for Eppie, who is represented by the “buttercups” which grew “thick” and thriving in Silas’s care. The visual act of Silas “carry[ing] Eppie beyond the Stone-pits to where the flowers grew”, the stone-pits where Dunstan had fallen into and decayed in, represents how Silas had protected Eppie from immorality, represented by the immoral Dunstan. This proves the genuine care for Eppie from Silas, as he raises Eppie based on a moral decision, and creates a moral haven for the family, even though it is one of the working class. As a result, Eppie stays with Silas as a family for the long term, bringing happiness to Silas, “I can’t feel as I’ve got any father but one”, “I can’t leave my father”. The reiteration of Eppie in claiming that she only has one father – Silas, and will never leave her father, shows of her strong will to stay with and love and care for Silas as her own father. In keeping the family of Silas and Eppie intact, the moral haven created by Silas will stay intact as well, bringing happiness to him in his life, as he deserved. Thus, Eliot portrays the attainment of happiness as an active action of moral choices being made such that a person deserves happiness in life.
Silas continuously made the active choice to love and care for Eppie throughout Eppie’s life.
Nevertheless, in Mrs Warren’s Profession, one attains genuine happiness only if one is able to sincerely decide on one’s life for oneself. Mrs Warren desires to keep her daughter by her side, but she is made to choose between her daughter and her occupation by Vivie herself. For Mrs Warren, “I[She] must have work and excitement, or I[she] will go melancholy mad”. It was a difficult decision for Mrs Warren to make, to leave her child for the rest of her life. She loves her work very much, even though it is unsavoury to Vivie. Nonetheless, she makes the decision, saying, “I can’t give it up – not for anybody”, including her own daughter. Even though a mother is expected to always love and child, and never ever give up on her own child, Mrs Warren gives up completely on her daughter, portraying her immorality, for the sake of her occupation, which seems even more immoral, as she runs a prostitution house. Contrary to the moral generation and what she deserves, Mrs Warren continues to own a prostitution house and work, she “like[s] making money”, and is very likely going to continue to do so. She is satisfied and happy in her occupation, and continues to be. If she had made the moral decision to abandon her profession for her daughter, she would have become “melancholy mad” and depressed and crazy. So she made the right decision for herself, putting herself as the priority over the likes of others, even her daughter, and choosing her own path of happiness, regardless of how other’s may think of her as being immoral. As a result, in only considering her satisfaction in life without the views of others, Mrs Warren attains happiness in her career and life. In Vivie’s case, she made an active decision to choose her work over her own mother, “I am like you… I must have work… we must part”. Vivie claims that she is like Mrs Warren, loving her work and unable to abandon it for even her own family member. Since they are unable to reconcile because of their work and moral differences, Vivie chooses her own individuality and what she believes in, that is her work, something she had worked hard for many years to do as a profession. A daughter is expected to serve her mother and give back to her for the rest of her life, however Vivie chooses the opposite. She may be considered selfish and immoral, but she “goes at her work with a plunge, and soon becomes absorbed in its figures”. This shows how much Vivie loves her job, as to be so enthusiastic to “plunge” into her work, and quickly be concentrating on it, even though her mother had just left her, and that she is not emotional about it at all in her work. In doing so, Shaw implies that happiness is attained when one is able to make individualistic choices for oneself and one’s life.
Therefore, Silas Marner by George Eliot and Mrs Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw can be compared in terms of their presentation of morality, happiness and the interdependence between social classes in society. Both Silas Marner and Mrs Warren’s Profession implies that social class does not define the morals of a person. On the other hand, they differ in terms of how they portray the attainment of happiness. In Silas Marner, whether a person attains happiness or not in the end, regardless of social class, is dependent on what he or she deserves by their active choices. Whereas in Mrs Warren’s Profession, one attains genuine happiness only if one is able to sincerely decide on one’s life for oneself.
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