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 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.
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.
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.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899): Conrad’s novella focuses more on the separation between civilized and uncivilized, the matter of colonization looming in the background.
Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers (1923): Sayers novel focuses on the upper class through its protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey.
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Wolf (1925): Similar to Sayers, Wolf’s novel focuses on the upper class as told from the point of view of Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa realizes the importance and thus only wants to associate herself with people of the same class. For example when she expresses her dislike toward Mrs. Kilman and Ellie Henderson.
Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935): Anand steps away from English social stratus and introduces readers to the caste system of India. Unlike the English class system, where one can change class through education and work, the Indian caste system is much more rigid in the fact that one is predestined to a certain caste.
Literary-Historical Trajectory: For the most part, the literary-historical line for these 4 novels remains the same except for the novels at the beginning and towards the end. Conrad’s novella doesn’t really focus on social class but more of the question of what it means to be civilized. While Anand brings a new perspective to social class by breaking away from the English class system to demonstrate the caste system of India.
[Darl] “Jewel stops at the spring and takes the gourd from the willow branch and drinks. I pass him and mount the path, beginning to hear Cash’s saw” (Faulkner 4).
[Cora] “She is propped on the pillow, with her head raised so she can see out the window, and we can hear him every time he takes up the adze or the saw… ‘She’s just watching Cash yonder,’ the girl says. We can hear the saw in the board” (Faulkner 8-9).
[Darl] “Jewel strikes [the horse] across the face with his fist and slides on to the trough and mounts upon it. Clinging t the hay-rack he lowers his head and peers out across the stall tops and through the doorway. The path is empty; from here he cannot even hear Cash sawing” (Faulkner 13).
[Jewel] “It’s because [Cash] stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box… Sawing and knocking, and keeping the air always moving so fast on her face that when you’re tired you can’t breathe it, and that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less. One lick less…” (Faulkner 15).
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York, NY: Modern Library, 2000. Print.
Notes: Different points of view of the same event, multiple narrations, different characters, similar to Mrs. Dalloway where one major event is seen and interpreted by many different characters, stream of consciousness.
“How it rejoiced her that! Not for weeks had they laughed like this together, poking fun privately like married people. What she meant was that if Mrs. Filmer had come in, or Mrs. Peters or anybody they would not have understood what she and Septimus were laughing at”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1981.
Notes: perception of reality faltered, desire for consistency/normalcy, failed marriage,
Lady Bruton stood by Miss Parry’s chair, a spectral grenadier, draped in black, inviting Peter Walsh to lunch; cordial; but without small talk, remembering nothing whatever about the flora or fauna of India. She had been there, of course; had stayed with three Viceroys; thought some of the Indian civilians uncommonly fine fellows; but what a tragedy it was – the state of India!
Virginia Woolf, “Mrs. Dalloway,” http://www.mrs-dalloway.com/
Notes: This really speaks to me as a period piece. The names, the references to imperialism and the Gothic descriptions of Lady Bruton.
“Health we must have; and health is proportion; so that when a man comes into your room and says he is Christ (a common delusion), and has a message, as they mostly have, and threatens, as they often do, to kill himself, you invoke proportion; order rest in bed; rest in solitude; silence and rest; rest without friends, without books, without messages; six months’ rest; until a man who went in weighing seven stone six comes out weighing twelve.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print
Notes: The lack of periods in this passage makes it easy for the reader to see how quickly Sir William’s mind works. His thoughts fly by, and Woolf does a good job showing that with the lack of breaks in his thoughts.
“For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for some one like Mrs. Foxcroft at theta the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin; or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John her favourite killed; but it was over; thank Heaven—over. It was June. The King and Queen were at the Palace” (Woolf 5).
Notes: The fact that “The War” just occurred is important the story. World War I greatly influenced the mindset of the characters. They lived through fear and turmoil during the war and many experienced what it was like to lose a loved one. The character’s lives are not the same as it was before the war but there’s a sense of hope. The repetition of June emphasizes the sense of hope for a new beginning and the end of a war state of mind.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print.