English 330 – Victorian Literature
Assignment #3 – “Mary Barton” and “Hard Times”
In both the novels “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell, and “Hard Times” by Charles Dickens, the representation of gender is based on the societal ideals of the Victorian period. Victorian gender ideology rested on women staying at home, raising and moralizing their children, and the men involved in public and politics and being the breadwinner of the family (Patterson and Whatley, 10). However, these roles were complicated by the growing industrialization in England with its changing technology and changing workplace environments, which presented new opportunities and hardships to people in different classes and positions. In other words, industrialization made it difficult or impossible for people to conform to and follow the dominant gender role applied to them by the Victorian society as will be examined in both the novels “Mary Barton” and “Hard Times.”
As already mentioned, women’s place in Victorian society was at home to be the nurturers and the moralizers of the family, while men were to be the breadwinners of their family. However, as evident in both novels, this traditional middle-class family structure does not conform to the conditions that the characters are faced with during the industrialization period. In “Mary Barton”, for instance, Mary lives only with her father after her mother and brother died. Mary’s brother died of hunger due to their very poor living conditions caused by the economic depression (Corey, 1). Mary’s father, John, then becomes involve in the workers’ union to expose the poverty stricken people, and leaves Mary "more of her own way than is common in any rank with girls of her age" (Gaskell, 23). She is without a mother to guide her in life, and to arrange marriage of any sort. She is then left on her own to pursue a marriage proposal for herself, which ultimately led her into trouble. Also, because John spends his time more and more...