The love interest narrative in Mary Barton weakens fundamentally the force of the novel as a social commentary. To what extent do you agree with this analysis of Gaskell's text?.
During the course of this essay, I will discuss the extent to which the love interest narrative in Mary Barton fundamentally weakens the force of the novel as a social commentary. I will be referring to other social commentary novels such as Hard Times by Charles Dickens, and The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell. By using these two novels as markers with which to measure Mary Barton, I hope to discover, whether it is the love interest, or merely Gaskell's middle class misunderstanding of working class people, that really undermines the novel as a piece of social commentary.
Although written nearly a hundred years later, George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier is a great example of social commentary. From the beginning, Orwell sets out to expose the hardship, exploitation, and injustice being suffered by miners in the north of England. Like Gaskell, Orwell came from a lower-upper middle class background. Initially, both writers had no experience of working class life. Gaskell gained her experience of the working classes while helping her husband with his duties as Minister in charge of the Cross street chapel in Manchester , and distributing soup tickets, food and clothing through her work with the district provident society. She also visited the homes of her Sunday school pupils. These actions are all admirable, but how well does one get to know someone, just by being charitable? There will always be a distance between the two, due to resentment on the part of the receiver who would rather be able to provide for themselves, and a feeling of superiority, which one must feel when there is such an obvious gap in prosperity, on the part of the provider. Orwell, who grew up equally ignorant of northern working class life, made the effort to live among the poor, staying for long periods in their homes, going to work with them, socialising and living with them.