So for my Social Theory course, we had to write 6 600-word papers and post them to the class blog over the semester. We could either just discuss the our readings before the class they were due in, or go back over older readings and analyze them closer. Or we could post in a "Theory in Action" secion with comparisons and discussions about the social theories we covered in relation to a cultural object of some sort (book/movie/website/anything, really...). And, well, I decided to do my very last post on North and South. I feel like posting it here, too, just for kicks. If you're really highly intrigued, I can come back to this and tell ya exactly who these theorists are and a basic summary of the reading we had from them, but for now it's about quarter to three in the morning, and I have to leave for my in-class final for this class in under seven hours. Now that I've rambled excessively for a paragraph, I'm just gonna copy/paste and crash in bed :P Well, and say that we didn't have to be excessively formal and "academic" in these blog papers, she just wanted to get us discussing the material. Although I tended to avoid writing in too relaxed of a style, this one wasn't started until after midnight, and I let myself go just a wee bit at times. :P Okay, really crashing now...
Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel from 1855, “North and South,” (which has also been adapted into several movie versions, the most recent from the BBC in 2004) is highly socially conscious. Taking place in a time of rapid industrialization, it fits in well with the theorists we have discussed in class over the semester. It has been a while since I watched the miniseries, and I have not had the time to re-watch it as I had hoped, but I will do my best to properly recall the story in my comparisons.
The story follows Margaret Hale, the daughter of a minister who moves his family from the agricultural south of England to the town of Milton in the industrialized north after leaving the Church of England. Shortly after her arrival, the workers in the local cotton mills organize a strike. Margaret befriends Bessy Higgins, the daughter of one of the leaders of the strike, Nicholas Higgins. However, being that Margaret is of a higher class than Bessy, she also socializes with John Thornton, the owner of one of the mills. In the course of the story, there is also a very touching romantic story, but that is not what I am here to discuss.
Marx would quite obviously have something to say about this strike business. The proletariat (the mill workers) rise up against the bourgeoisie (the mill owners) in defense of their rights as workers. While nowhere near an international scale as Marx expected to someday happen, this strike is a concerted effort spanning several of the local mills.
However, the “two great camps” are not so clear in this picture. Thornton, for example, is bourgeois, but is also clearly struggling. As the story progresses, he also starts to socialize with more respect and something close to amiability with the workers. Marx might look at this as the “lower bourgeoisie” being absorbed into the proletariat. However, Weber’s approach to the concept of class seems far more appropriate. He recognizes many differing layers of class. Beyond this, Weber’s “status order” can be easily applied to the characters’ perceptions. Mr. Thornton is wealthier than Margaret Hale’s family, but Margaret still holds herself to be above Mr. Thornton. She sees his lack of a “classical” education, among other things, as a sign of him not being a true “gentlemen,” despite having the wealth of one.
The feminist readings we had during the semester are also relevant with this piece. Mr. Thornton’s sister, Fannie, seems to encompass many of the critiques of women in our readings from McKinnon and Mitchell. She has no interest in the business of the mill or in any job, for she considers that to be a man’s job. Her job is only to secure herself a wealthy man, no matter what her feelings for him are. She is very vain, in a clear example of McKinnon’s concept of a decentered sexuality, seeing herself as others would see her and reacting based on that. She is also very critical of Margaret’s femininity, deeming her not proper enough. Indeed, many characteristics of Margaret’s behavior is seen as improper and a tad shocking. For example, she actually voices her opinion about the social situation with the mill workers, and engages in intellectual conversation with Mr. Thornton on that subject. However, despite it all, the male domination is apparent as Margaret is often dismissed as irrelevant when the mill owners set to a “real” discussion of their situation.
Turning back to Marx for a little bookend effect in the discussion of this novel, there is definite evidence of his theories regarding a worker’s estrangement and alienation from the product of labor and themselves. One clear example that I can remember is regarding the estrangement from human potential. Margaret’s father takes a position as a teacher of classics for the adults. Mr. Thornton, being bourgeois and able to afford the time and effort for it, willingly seeks this education out. However, very few workers from the community bother to attend Mr. Hale’s lectures, and those that do seem to lack interest in them; they seem too tired to care, and are there only as a meeting place to discuss the strike.
(I just love it when I get to indulge in my side-interests while doing homework. Helps perk things up a bit! Like when I got to write that paper on a Doctor Who episode...crap! Crashing! Now! I swear! *races off to press post button*)
Ooh, this is interesting. You had some intriguing assignments this semester. Thanks for posting.
I am interested in the theories/theorists you referenced, but it seems more than a little bit horrible to ask you to do more homework. :) Still, if you should feel inclined to share the information (or to just direct me to a reading list) I would appreciate it.
Good luck with the finals! *hugs*
Ooh, well, I think a couple of these were ones that she posted as .pdf files, which I could send ya and the others I could easily hunt down/summarize for the interested. I might have some time tomorrow, but if not by Thursday for sure :)
Thanks! I think today's final went fairly decently, and I just have to edit some already-written papers, with another final on Wednesday and an informal presentation on Thursday and then I should be out of the thick of it. *is so happy to be near the end*
I only worry that if I wait too long, I'll have forgotten everything that I was writing in reference too :P But yes, no worries, I shall keep my priorities (ya know, like me being on LJ now instead of working on homework or sleeping...*ahem*)