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Elizabeth Gaskell 's The Industrial Revolution Affected Everyone And Everything

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During the Victorian era, there were specific expectations set for women and men. Men expected to be fathers and heads of households, whereas women were expected to simply be in the home, dependent of their husbands. The only alternatives for unmarried women were either religious life or prostitution. Elizabeth Gaskell comments on these expectations in her novel Mary Barton, especially through the actions of the titular character, during the Industrial Revolution. While the Mary Barton can often be read in the context of the economic changes in society, it also provides significant commentary regarding the gendered aspects of life. To put it simply, the Industrial Revolution affected everyone and everything; Elizabeth Gaskell illustrates…show more content…
Gaskell characterizes her, "Mary dwelt upon and enjoyed the idea of some day becoming a lady, and doing all the elegant nothings appertaining to ladyhood." (Gaskell 79) She is initially a stereotypical young girl, but later develops into a strong character. Because of the Industrial Revolution’s substantial impacts, Mary’s characterization is a reaction to these impacts. Gaskell recognized that the period was very dynamic, especially regarding the roles of women (Al-Haj 1134). Pearl Brown notes, “Mary Barton reflects on the impact at mid-century of this new culture on gender roles” (Brown 346). The Industrial Revolution served as a catalyst leading to a change of women’s roles out of necessity.
Mary’s characterization, especially at the latter half of the novel, is atypical. She was initially introduced as a girl stuck in a love triangle, but after the death Harry Carson, she becomes a heroic character, making her own decisions. Necessity was a primary factor; the Bartons were on the edge of poverty for much of the novel. This reality forced Mary to work, much to her father’s protest. He believes he should be the primary provider; John Barton recommends she becomes a servant, a very feminine career. Instead Mary decides to become a seamstress; Brown points out it was a job “with a possibility of a future managing a shop or perhaps owning he own” (348). Mary not only becomes a significant breadwinner for her family, but also has the
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