Within the novels we read Untouchable (1935), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Their Eyes were watching God (1937), and As I Lay Dying (1930) social class and structure are brought up to show the divide between the people of monetary ability. Within the novels Mrs. Dalloway and As I Lay Dying, the first two novels published, the monetary divide is more prominent and is creates a hierarchy within the socials classes of a single culture. The other two novels, Their Eyes and Untouchable, represent a monetary divide that existed in a culture in which the ones out down are pushed into that position due to their birth, this position of birth is then reflected by a low monetary worth. I feel this represents a gradual evolution that reflects the growing out of society. The gradual growth starts with looking at the richer class, than moving to a similar cultures lower class, the divide is moved to a more distinct divide between levels of a culture outside of England, and ending with a monetary divide between two different cultures.
In Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, “he could not feel” (86), “he could not feel” (87), “he could not feel” (87), “but he could not taste, he could not feel” (88), “he could not feel” (88), “he felt nothing” (90).
In Gertrude Stein, Melanctha, “Rose Johnson was a real black (…) negress. She laughed when she was happy” (47), “Rose Johnson was a real black negress” (47), “Rose laughed when she was happy” (47).
In William Faulkner, As I lay dying, “It wont balance. If you want it to tote and ride on a balance, we will have” (96), “it wont tote and it wont ride on a balance unless” (96), “it wont balance. If they want it to tote and ride on a balance, they will have” (96).
In Ernest Hemingway, In Our Time, “the burned-over country” (133), “burned off the ground” (133), “at the burned-over stretch of hillside” (133), “watched the trout” (133), “he watched them” (133), “Nick watched them” (133), “He watched them” (133), “as he watched” (133).
In these four works Three Lives, (1909), In Our Time (1924), Mrs Dalloway (1925), As I lay dying (1930), the authors use a common pattern of repetition. The examples chosen above are representative of this stylistic use so typical of modernist writers. It seems to reflect obsessions that characters embody, whether it be the absence of feeling for Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs Dalloway, the negro race identity in Melanctha, the coffin and its technical features for Cash in As I lay dying or the sense of sight for Nick and the destroyed land after the war in In Our Time. We can notice that Gertrude Stein was using this repetitive device in 1909, that is to say before WWI and that Faulkner, in a very modernist perspective, kept using it in 1930, in the interwar period. This stylistic pattern allows the reader to enter the character’s mind and to share his/her obsessions and fears.
In four of the novels Mrs. Dalloway, Their Eyes were Watching God, As I Lay Dying, and Untouchables. The class of the characters heavily influences their social mobility or lack of social mobility. The characters in Their Eyes were Watching God and As I lay Dying are living in regions that are separate from those in big cities. Then there are those who are a part of the same city, but who are cut off from the upper class mentality of thinking–Lucy in Mrs. Dalloway. The importance of characters who live in the margins compared to those who are affluent show a changing landscape post World War I. There is a gradual fixation on the proletariat compared to the bourgeois. This shows a growing concern with representing people who have been unrepresented in the past.
Historical line: Social climate and futurism (i.e. anticipation of the future).
Mrs. Dalloway (1925): Published in the aftermath of the First World War. Deals with the domestic state of Great Britain following a massive loss of life during the war and the weakened state of British colonialism (see the reflections of Peter Walsh throughout the novel). Anticipates, through indirect criticism, lasting effects of the First World War on British international politics and domestic perception (i.e. the waning power of the English monarchy, the disintegration of British colonialism). Virginia Woolf herself had portentous ideas of what would eventually befall Britain as a result of the social, political, and economic consequences of WWI on the Isles and on the Continent (Woolf infamously committed suicide shortly before the Britain entered WWII and the Blitz ravaged London).
As I Lay Dying (1930): Published at the outset of the Great Depression. Addresses an extremely poor lower class of the Southern United States which is in continual economic hardship. Challenges ideas of class being connected to intelligence and/or capacity; possibly a thematic “response” to the Roaring ’20s credit economy, wherein the Nouveau Riche were able to make their mark in the Northern United States, while the Southern United States remained in relative poverty. Arguably a precursor to the notable works of John Steinbeck, i.e. The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.
Untouchable (1935): Published 12 years prior to India’s independence from Great Britain, and 2 years after Mahatma Gandhi began his political campaign for the Harijan movement. Anticipates an independent India which has removed the ideas of class and caste from daily life/a rejection of the social structure which enables the oppression of lower classes. Ideas of passive resistance and quiet protest are examined in Untouchable; the novel anticipates the growing impact of 1) Mohandas Gandhi’s teachings on Indian independence and class relations, and 2) the political mobilization of the lower classes in India towards a democratic society.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): Published during the latter years of the Great Depression. Deals with a similar economic climate which Faulkner addressed in his own writing, only here addressing issues of race and gender as well; challenges traditional ideas of marriage and perception of female sexuality and economic/social independence. Anticipates a long future for hostile race relations/racial hardship in America.
Notes: Anticipation of the future; how Woolf/Faulkner/Anand/Hurston “got it right”; economic downturns; political movements; gender issues; racial issues; social “progress”; modern cynicism; voices of the lower class; the persistence of poverty through history.
Heart of Darkness (1899): Conrad distinguishes race and critiques imperialism with dialect.
“Melanctha” (1909): Stein experiments with dialect to emphasize how things are said and what is left unsaid.
As I Lay Dying (1930): Faulkner’s use of dialect to emphasize regionalism in the United States.
Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): As part of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston uses black dialect to represent black life.
These four works use dialect for different purposes. Over the course of time that these works were written, dialect moves from emphasizing a point to representing different lifestyles. Dialect in Heart of Darkness is a point of shame, whereas dialect in Their Eyes Were Watching God is a source of pride.
In all of the four novels we have read in this section, each character had to face something they rather not worry about. In Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway is struggling to put a party together and is questioning her relationship with her husband, in As I lay Dying, Addie Bundren’s family is trying to figure out why the murder happened, in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie tells her story of being Aferican-American during the slavery period, and lastly in Untouchable, Bakha is torn between following Christianity or following the teachings of Ghandi.
In each of these novels, the reader can learn about other people’s lives, and think outside of their own world. Each novel tells a great meaningful story that can be relatable to everyday life.
Mrs. Dalloway: The main characters are decidedly upper class. Most of them are well-to-do.
Their Eyes Were Watching God: The main characters range from middle to upper class.
As I Lay Dying: The main characters in the story are middle to lower class.
Untouchable: The main characters are the lowest of the low class.
These novels came out in different eras and reflect different societies. They all deal very heavily with issues of class and social stratification. The worst situations are reserved for the characters in Untouchable. This is interesting because these books represent a decent amount of the twentieth century world. Interestingly, the more modern books don’t deal with the higher classes. It would be assumed that social stratification becomes less of an issue as time goes on because people begin to understand compassion and the unfairness of inequality. According to these novels, however, this is not the case.
Heart of Darkness (1899): The novel takes place in the context of the “civilized” English expanding their presence in “uncivilized” Africa.
Mrs. Dalloway (1925): The novel takes place in the core of civilized city life; London. Complications arise when characters have difficulty adjusting to civilized life (Septimus)
As I Lay Dying (1925): “Uncivilized” country folk make a journey into the “civilized” town.
Untouchable (1935): The caste system in India forces social statuses among citizens; separation of classes. Untouchables practically considered uncivilized.
These four novels all take place in drastically different places with characters confronting different social/economical standings; yet they all share the common issue of division of civility. Heart of Darkness in 1899 was written about a time when the English led an imperialist mission to Africa and considered the native Africans wild. 26 years later this issue is presented in a different setting; Mrs. Dalloway showed a thriving metropolis, yet within that civilized life existed people like Septimus, who had trouble adjusting to that kind of life. That same year came As I Lay Dying which showed an opposite world in the deep south of America. The Bundrens were “uncivilized country folk” attempting to enter a “civilized” world (the town) unlike their own. In Untouchable in 10 years later, the same issue arises across the world in India where the caste system forces civility and incivility among its people. The theme of social class crosses all cultural and temporal borders.
“The firelight flickered on the wall and beyond the window a spectral dusk was gathering upon the river.” (56) A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce 1916
“The body which lay in the bath was that of a tall, stout man of about fifty. The hair, which was thick and black and naturally curly, had been cut and parted by a master hand, and exuded a faint violet perfume, perfectly recognizable in the close air of the bathroom. The features were thick, fleshy and strongly marked, with prominent dark eyes, and a long nose curving down to a heavy chin. The clean-shaven lips were full and sensual, and the dropped jaw showed teeth stained with tobacco. On the dead face the handsome pair of gold pince-nez mocked death with grotesque elegance; the fine gold chain curved over the naked breast. The legs lay stiffly stretched out side by side; the arms reposed close to the body; the fingers were flexed naturally.” Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers (1923)
“In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.” (3) Mrs. Dalloway Virginia Woolf 1925
“They shot the six cabinet members at half-past six in the morning against the wall of the hospital. There were pools of water in the courtyard. There were wet dead leaves on the paving of the courtyard. It rained hard.” (51) In Our Time Hemingway 1925.
“Before us the thick dark current runs. It talk up to us in a murmur become ceaseless and myriad, the yellow surface dimpled and monstrously into fading swirls travelling along the surface for an instant, silent, impermanent and profoundly significant, as though just beneath the surface something huge and alive waked for a moment of lazy alertness out of and into light slumber again” (141) As I Lay Dying Faulkner 1930.
Joyce’s Portrait stared everyone off attempting to create a “portrait”-quality work of art with literature. Joyce mixed his attempt at this into his work, but as other novelists began to focus on the task, new styles emerged. This culminated in the intense moments in which time slows so objects can be explained in a manner that mimics a painting.
World War I made a huge impact in society. The novels that were published after it reflect the problems of the pre-war world that people began to observe and then look to change. Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body?, published in 1923, is a detective novel with a completely different take on the method of investigation. The protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey breaks away from the traditional method of deduction and instead relies on intuition. This novel slowly reveals people realizing that the world they were living in before the war was not ideal and that they wanted to change it. Moving away from what was once the main method signals that in the post-war era, people looked to new ways in life. The realization of the faults of pre-war way of life continue with the publication of Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. In this Virginia Woolf novel, readers are exposed to an upper class way of life that is ending. The old values of the pre-war world are crumbling. There is also a sense of how the old English way of thinking failed as exemplified by Septimus’ death since he was a soldier who fought for England. Then the critique evolves to one that pushes for change. In Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, published in 1935, the problems of colonization and the enforcement of the caste system is exposed. The novel shows how the faults of society can lead an individual to look for change. Through the protagonist Bakha, Anand was able to point out the faults that exist within the treatment of the lower class. The criticism on the way of life continues with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was published in 1937.This novel exposes the problems within the unfair treatment of an individual based on his or her race. Hurston is able to illustrate the problems an individual must face in life due to the prejudice set against him or her due to their race. Through an analysis of these four post-war novels, we begin to see a pattern of critique on the social order and way of life. There is a continuation of the theme of finding faults within the way things are and wanting to correct them.