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The Issue of Civility and Social Class

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.

Post-War World Critiques

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.


“…What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave…” (Woolf 3). 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” (Faulkner 141). 1930.

“He felt dejected, utterly miserable. Was the pleasure of Charat Singh’s generosity only to be enjoyed half an hour? What had he done to deserve such treatment? He loved the child…Of course, I polluted the child. I couldn’t help in doing so…It started on account of the goal I scored. Cursed me!” (Anand 116). 1935.

“But oh God, don’t let Tea Cake be off somewhere hurt and Ah not know nothing about it. And God, please suh, don’t let him love nobody else but me. Maybe Ah’m is uh fool, Lawd, lak dey say, but Lawd, Ah been so lonesome, and Ah been waitin’, Jesus. Ah done waited uh long time” (Hurston 120). 1937.

Free indirect discourse can be found throughout many of the works we’ve read, especially these four. This device works on many levels and for many different reasons. In Mrs. Dalloway Woolf utilizes it to explore the inner workings of the mind that cannot necessarily be accessed on a tangible level. For Faulker, FID works to break up the short sentences, offering us a glimpse into the deeper minds of his characters, especially when the timing lapses, and we see how some of the inner, indirect discourse works to express these overarching themes. Anand uses it to explore the theme of class and caste, which is the most prominent theme in the text (and also prevalent in many others we’ve focused on). And Hurston uses FID as a device to interact with and question the way language works in her novel, in terms of the dialogue, dialect, and indirect discourse, and how they all work together.

Footnotes: A Common Device in 20th Century Fiction

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand (1935), Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (1937), Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (1923), and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916) all utilize the device of footnotes  to bring forth a message to the readers.

Jeri Johnson, who wrote the introduction of Portrait: ” ‘Epiphany’: a word which Joyce appropriates from the lexicon of the sacred to that of the profane” (XXXVI).

Joyce, J. (1916). A portrait of the artist as a young man. (p. XXXVI). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sayers: “Lord Peter’s wits were wool-gathering. The book is in the possession of Earl Spencer” (4).

Sayers, D. (1923). Whose body?. (p. 4). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, INC.

Anand: “The Hindus do not allow a person to die in bed, but bring the dying to rest as near the earth as  possible; the idea being that from the earth we come, to earth we return.” (81).

Anand, M. R. (1935). Untouchable. (p. 81). London: Penguin Books.

Hurston: “A beating with the fist” (98).

Hurston, Z. N. (1937). Their eyes were watching god. (p. 98). New York: Harper Perennial.

The literary-historical trajectory that can be noted from these novels is that they each serve a purpose that fits the time and/or tone of the stories.  For example, Sayers’ novel is not meant to be taken seriously because it is a satirical detective story, so the footnote is consistent with the story and also meant to entertain the reader.  Joyce’s novel, although the footnote was not an original part of the story, still helps the reader understand a theme that will be seen throughout the novel.  Anand and Hurston’s stories are written later in the 20th century, and they both serve to make clarifications for the reader in terms of customs and the meanings of phrases.  The footnotes are for the most part continuous in that they are granting the reader clarifications.  However, Hurston’s novel in particular is the most controversial (a joke about violence?) and also is the novel that is published the latest.

Wanting an Experience

Characters in four of the novels we have read are all looking to feel or have something new. They all want to be a part of an experience that is away from what they have already done.

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (1899): ” I wouldn’t have believed it of myself; but then-you see- I felt somehow I must get there by hook or by crook” (Conrad 109).

Notes: Here, the main character, Marlow, discusses how he much he wants to travel to Congo (Conrad 108). The author shows how important this experience would be for Marlow in the way he describes it.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008. Print.

“Melanctha” by Gertrude Stein (1909): “Melanctha always had a strong sense for real experience” (Stein 73).

Notes: In this book, once again, the main character, Melanctha does not allow much to stop her from getting the “experience” she thinks she wants to have (Stein 73).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” Three Lives and Q.E.D. Ed. Marianne DeKoven. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006. 53-147. Print.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1916): “He burned to appease the fierce longings of his heart before which everything else was idle and alien” (Joyce 83).

Notes: Readers are able to see the importance of going through something different because  the author writes how Stephen “…burned…” for an experience (Joyce 83).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925): ” He pursued; she changed. There was color in her cheeks; mockery in her eyes; he was an adventurer, reckless he thought, swift, daring, indeed…” (Woolf 53).

Notes: In Woolf’s book, Peter Walsh suddenly decides to follow a woman (Woolf 53). It is a new experience because he describes it as “…daring…” (Woolf 53).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt Inc, 1925. Print.

Literary-historical trajectory-  Through this pattern, I can see the idea of experience going on even as time continues. I think this shows how different characters in different books, all seem to want something more.

Social Class in Mrs. Dalloway, Untouchables, Their Eyes Were Watching God, As I Lay Dying

“Worshipping proportion, Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalized despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion–his, if they were men….” (Woolf 99)

Notes: separation of classes, order, upper class’ view on society

“‘Keep to the side of the road, you low-caste vermin!’ he suddenly heard someone shouting at him.  ‘Why don’t you call, you swine, and announce your approach!  Do you know you have touched me and defiled me, you cock-eyed son of a bow-legged scorpion!  Now I will have to go and bath to purify myself.  And it was a new dhoti and shirt I put on this morning!'” (Anand 46)

Notes: order, ostracized, lower class, dregs of society

“Joe Starks was the name, yeah Joe Starks from in and through Georgy.  Been working’ for white folks all his life.  Saved up some money–round three hundred dollars, yes indeed, right here in his pocket.  Kept hearin’ ’bout them building’ a new state down heah in Floridy and sort of wanted to come.  But he was makin’ money where he was.  But when he heard all about ’em makin’ a town all outa colored folks, he knower dat was de place he wanted to be.  He had always wanted to be a big voice, but de white folks had all de says where he come from and everywhere else, exceptin’ dis place dat colored folks was buildin’ theirselves.  Dat was right too.  De man dat built things ought boss it.  Let colored folks build things too if dry wants to crow over something’.  He was glad he had his money save up.  He meant to git deer whilst de town wuz yet a baby.  He meant to buy in big.  It had always been his wish and desire to be a big voice and he had to live nearly thirty years to find a chance.  Where was Janie’s papa and mama?” (Hurston 28)

Notes: segregation, blacks no power, not in control of their lives, poverty

“‘All right,’ he says, going away.  ‘She looks pretty good for a country girl,’ he says.”

“‘Wait,’ I says.  He waited and I went and peeped through the crack.  But I couldn’t tell nothing except she had a good leg against the light.  ‘Is she young, you say?’ I says.”

“‘She looks like a pretty hot mamma, for a country girl,’ he says” (Faulkner 242).

Notes: poverty, prejudice, class distinctions

Historical Line: Mrs Dalloway was published in 1925; As I Lay Dying in 1930; Untouchables in 1935; Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937.

Comments:  For all these novels I see the stark contrast between the rich and the poor.  Not much has changed in the twelve year period between Woolfs novel and Hurston’s novel.  It suggests that there will always be huge gaps between poverty and wealth no matter the time period and the upper classes will always impose their power on the poor.


Inequalities in Social Class

In our Twentieth Fiction course, we have read many interesting novels so far.  My blog will discuss a similar theme between the four novels, Mrs. Dalloway, As I Lay Dying, Untouchable, and Their Eyes Were Watching God – inequalities between social classes.  In the 1925 novel, Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf depicts the importance of social class post World War 1, through the eyes of the main protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway.  Clarissa is from a high social class and appreciates her high status whereas Mrs. Kilman and Ellie Henderson are inferior to Clarissa due to their low social class.  Due to her high social class, Clarissa only interacts with the people whom have the same social class as her.  However, Faulkner’s 1930 novel, As I Lay Dying, doesn’t portray any kind of inequality in social class.  Instead, Faulkner shows the poverty and difficulties of a poor family in the Mississippi.  As we read the novels of Anand and Hurston during the late 1930’s, we notice a gradual evolution in the inequalities between the social classes since the inequalities lead to domination or racism.  In Anand’s1930 novel, Untouchable, Anand depicts the inequality between social class in terms of domination between the Pundit and Sohini; the Pundit is a Brahmin and most importantly, a man, whereas Sohini is an untouchable and even more important, a woman.  Therefore, the Pundit uses two intertwined methods of domination, gender and social class, to control Sohini.  Similarly, in the 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston depicts the inequality in social class in terms of racism through the marriage of Logan Killock and Janie.  Logan Killock is a white, comes from a high social class, and is wealthy as he has sixty acres of land whereas Janie is an African American and she comes from a low social class.  In order to achieve a high social status and wealth, Janie marries Logan, only to not receive any love from him.

Based on the literary – historical trajectory in all the four novels, I notice how all of these novels were written post World War 1.  In these novels, there is an inequality between the upper class and low class, however, the inequality between the social classes starts to elevate during the 1930’s.  In the 1930’s, not only is there an inequality in social class, but new inequalities arise in terms of race and gender.  These new inequalities cause the upper class to discriminate and dominate the lower class based on their inferiority in race, social class, and gender.

Nature imagery

“Janie walked to the door with the pan in her hand still stirring the cornmeal dough and looked towards the barn. The sun from ambush was threatening the world with red daggers, but the shadows were gray and solid-looking around the barn. Logan with his shovel looked like a black bear doing some clumsy dance on his hind legs” (31).

“The morning road air was like a new dress. That made her feel the apron tied around her waist. She untied it and flung it on a low bush beside the road and walked on, picking flowers and making a bouquet. After that she came to where Joe Starks was waiting for her with a hired rig. He was very solemn and helped her to the seat beside him. With him on it, it sat like some high, ruling chair. From now on until death she was going to have flower dust and springtime sprinkled over everything. A bee for her bloom. Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them” (32).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York, New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Web.

Notes: vivid imagery, figurative language, the presence of nature

A strong, emancipated woman

“Dis sittin’ in de rulin’ chair is been hard on Jody,” she muttered out loud. She was full of pity for the first time in years. Jody had been hard on her and others, but life had mishandled him too. Poor Joe! Maybe she had known some other way to try, she might have made his face different. But what that other way could be, she had no idea. She thought back and forth about what had happened in the making of a voice out of a man. Then thought about herself. Years ago, she had told her girl self to wait for her in the looking glass. It had been a long time since she had remembered. Perhaps she’s better look. She went over to the dresser and looked hard at her skin and features. The young girl was gone, but a handsome woman had taker her place. She tore off the kerchief from her head and let down her plentiful hair. The weight, the length, the glory was there. She took careful stock of herself, then combed her hair and tied it back up again. Then she starched and ironed her face, forming it into just what people wanted to see, and opened up the window and cried, “Come heah people! Jody is dead. Mah husband is gone from me.” (87)

Janie starched and ironed her face and came set in the funeral behind her veil. It was like a wall of stone and steel. The funeral was going on outside. All things concerning death and burial were said and done. Finish. End. Nevermore. Darkness. Deep hole. Dissolution. Eternity. Weeping and wailing outside. Inside the expensive black folds were resurrection and life. She did not reach outside for anything, nor did the things of death reach inside to disturb her calm. (88)

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Harper Perennial Editions, 2013