North and South: The Role of Victorian Women in the Capitalistic Marketplace

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Capitalism, Marketplace, and Class were some of the most dominant themes in the 19th century and Victorian age. These themes were essential not only because they defined society but because they also played an important role in the understanding of economic structure and developments in that society. It is also important to note that the economic, political, and social legacies of these themes on society at the time last to date. Thus, it is not surprising that a number of scholars and author made tremendous efforts to study and record the periods with regards to their practice of capitalism, class, and marketplace. While appreciating the fact that many authors had common perceptions and findings concerning this period, it is also important to note that there are aspects in which authors differed concerning the period.

The purpose of this paper is to use Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Markets to carry out a comparison and contrast concerning their perceptions about capitalism, class, and marketplace in the 19th century and Victorian age. Besides, other texts, these two texts act as the foundation for the analysis of the practice of capitalism, marketplace as well as the role of class divisions in that society. It is important to note that Victorian society was highly stratified, and this stratification had impacts on the activities in the marketplace. It is also possible that capitalism, as a mode of production, contributed significantly to this class divide. The paper demonstrates that capitalism, marketplace economics as well as class differences had tremendous impacts on the lives of people in the 19th century and Victorian age and as a result, they became some of the most dominant themes in the era.

The Place and Role of Women in the Victorian Marketplace

For many years, markets have been associated with women. While men have always played an important role in marketplace activities, it has always been the women who are the faces of marketplace activities. However, the 19th century and Victorian marketplace did not give women such a prominent role to play. It is notable that in many cases, women were relegated to the periphery of marketplace activities, and men were given an opportunity to play prominent roles. In many cases, women were relegated to the less prestigious domestic duties such as fetching water and preparing meals. Rosetti’s Goblin Markets, speaking of Laura, says that ‘She no more swept the house, tended the fowls or cows, fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat, brought water from the brook: but sat down listless in the chimney-nook, and would not eat”. From this statement, it is possible to deduce that women were not accorded an opportunity to play a prominent role in the marketplace.

However, when women were involved in commercial transactions in the marketplace, they were subjected to humiliations, and these had adverse effects on their participation in the markets. Rosetti’s Goblin Markets goes ahead to state that when Laura went to the markets, she was forced to buy it by giving up a piece of her.’ From this statement, Rosetti’s Goblin Markets suggests that the marketplace of this era demeaned women. In North and South, however, Gaskell presents a different picture of women in Victorian society. She suggests that the role and place of women were determined more by the economic circumstances rather than cultural factors. Gaskell, through the character of Margaret, demonstrates that even in a marketplace which was largely dictated and controlled by men, women still had a chance to work and achieve their goals. In the case of Margaret, it is evident that through sheer determination and hard work, women are capable of defying the patriarchal marketplace to achieve success.

Capitalism and the Distribution of Resources in the 19th Century and Victorian Society

Capitalism is the most practiced economic and political philosophy which dictates the distribution of resources in society. According to this philosophy, the trading activities, including industries, are controlled by private firms without the interference of the government. It may also be referred to as a free enterprise economy. Capitalism favors the rich, and these people are capable of manipulating the systems so that they can achieve their objectives. In Rosetti’s Goblin Markets, there is an incident where Laura is forced to ‘sick it’ so that she can get the commodities which she wants in the market. The fact that Laura performs the sexual acts without wanting to is an indication that her choices are limited, and she has to do whatever is wanted of her so that she can use her products. Seemingly, the men who want her to perform sexual acts to them ask her not to give money since the sexual act is sufficient.

It is also possible to deduce from this incident that it is possible that some people had created artificial scarcity of goods so that the people like Laura could not have a lot of options. From these incidences, it is possible to deduce that capitalism enhances a culture of exploitation. Similarly, in Gaskell’s North and South, a situation is presented where the residents of the North have to wake up early to go and work in the industries. Even the people from the south had to move to the North in search of job opportunities. In spite of working in the industries and making money for the industries, some workers still live in pathetic conditions. All these are indications that capitalism entrenched the culture of exploitation. Malpractices in the marketplace Markets have always been controlled by authorities to achieve desired goals. In some instances, markets have been controlled to the disadvantage of some groups of people. The markets in the Victorian age were controlled immensely, and these controls eventually had adverse effects on society. The fact that some people, mostly men, controlled the modes of production, gave them a leeway to treat women very unfairly. The experiences of Laura in the Goblins market demonstrate the biases and injustices which characterized capitalism and marketplace in the Victorian age.

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At the beginning of the poem, it was evident that there was plenty of produce, and merchants could be herd moving around and announcing for their produce to be bought. However, after some time, people, including Laura, could no longer hear the voices of people making announcements for the sale of the produce. Laura and her colleagues were on the verge of starvation since there was no more plenty produce being brought to the market. These were artificial shortages which might have been created by the producer so that they could increase the prices of the commodities and in return reap huge profits. The fact that some people, mostly men, controlled the modes of production, gave them a leeway to treat women very unfairly.

The experiences of Laura in the Goblins market to demonstrate the biases and injustices which characterized capitalism and marketplace in the Victorian age. While Gaskell does not speak directly about malpractices in the market, it is, however, notable that there were limitations for women taking part in the industries and the few, such as Margaret, who succeeded did so as a result of sheer determination and hard work. All these experiences suggest that the 19th century and Victorian marketplace was characterized by the existence of a wide range of malpractices.

Capitalism Entrenches Imperialism Against Women

Women were perhaps the biggest loses in the 19th century and Victorian capitalism. While it is expected that both men and women are supposed to have equal opportunities in the market, it is notable that women were limited severely with regards to their activities. In Goblin markets, it is notable that women existed only as buyers and not sellers or producers. The work of production was left to men since that would play an important social role of giving them authority over women. In many ways, the fact that women relied on men to get their produce hindered their development since there was nothing which they could perform without men. In the Goblins Market, women such as Laura and her sister only went to the market to purchase the products. In the process, women were exposed to a situation where they had to adhere to the dictates of men. Since it is capitalism which dictates the production and distribution of resources, it is the one which is to blame concerning the predicament of women. When Laura is compelled to perform sexual acts so that she can get the products which she needs, it is an indication that capitalism entrenched the culture of male dominance over women. The roles which women performed also indicated the extent to which women had been relegated to the periphery of social matters. Goblins Market suggests that women were made to serve men while men were concerned with critical issues facing society.

The situation which women faced in the Goblins Market is similar to the situation which Margaret faced in Gaskell’s North and South. The difference is that while the women in Goblins Market decoded to work within the dictates of the system, Margaret, on the other hand, decided to defy the system and follow her wishes. Margaret decided to venture into a field which was male-dominated, and that allowed her to achieve success. The challenges which Margaret faced were indications that capitalism erected a wide range of roadblocks which hindered the progress of women and put them at the mercy of men. It is essential to note that in capitalism, there is always a desire to hire people who are thought to be competent enough to work in industries.

However, there were perceptions in the 19th century and Victorian society, which suggested that there were roles which women were not competent enough to undertake. Even today, in spite of the fact that there are no studies which have confirmed that there are roles which women are not capable of performing and which can only be performed by men, it is important to note that there are still many people who believe that there are roles which women are not suited to perform. These kinds of perceptions had adverse effects on the place and reputation of women in society. In this regard, it is notable that the two texts are in agreement that capitalism had a role to play in the development of imperialism against women.

The Contribution of Class to Consumption Habits

Class plays an important role in the determination of the consumption trends and choices among people. The class of an individual will play an important role in determining whether he will consume certain products or not. Firstly, it is necessary to note that when people do not have money, their choices on what they would want to consume is very limited. In Goblins Market, Laura laments that “’Good folk, I have no coin; To take were to purloin: I have no copper in my purse, I have no silver either, And all my gold is on the furze; That shakes in windy weather; Above the rusty heather.” By looking at her condition, it is notable that Laura comes from the bottom ladder in society’s social ladder. On the other side, the workers in the northern industries in Gaskell’s North and South have money, and they are capable of acquiring materials which allow them to live a life which they desire.

Conclusion

The paper has demonstrated that capitalism, marketplace economics as well as class differences had tremendous impacts on the lives of people in the 19th century and Victorian age and as a result, they became some of the most dominant themes in the era. From the examination of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Markets, it is has emerged that there are ideas which two authors had in common while there are also areas where they differ. Generally, the works point out that class, capitalism, and marketplace practices played an important role in shaping life in the 19th century and Victorian period.

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