Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell and Cambridge by Caryl Phillips

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell and Cambridge by Caryl Phillips
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell and Cambridge by Caryl Phillips
Novels “Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell and “Cambridge” by Caryl Phillips depict female characters living in England in times of gender and class inequality. In such a way, both writers reveal the essence of the life of women in England in their time and show the extent to which women were oppressed by men. On the one hand, both authors show the oppressed position of women in England, whereas, on the other hand, they show that women could have used their sexuality in different way that could put them either in an advantageous position over men, as was the case of Mary, or in a totally dependent position, as was the case of Emily. Gaskell shows a strong female character, who is accustomed to use all means to reach her ends and who succeeds in the struggle with the men’s domination. In contrast, Phillips shows an inferior female character, who is unable to resist to the domination of men in her life.
On analyzing both main characters of both novels, Mary Barton and Emily, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that both characters face the dilemma of taking independent decisions. Mary is accustomed to live on her own and she works hard to change her life for better. In such a situation, she is able to take independent decisions to reach desirable ends. As for Emily, she proves to be unable to take independent decision because she was seduced by the plantation’s manager and she cannot take decisions independently of him (Phillips, 122). Therefore, Mary is a strong and manipulative woman, whereas Emily is dependent on men.
At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that this dependence of Emily on men is rather material than spiritual. At any rate, she cannot live without the financial support of men. She needs to receive the financial support from the part of men. This material dependence strengthens psychological and spiritual bounds between Emily and men she relies on. In stark contrast, Mary has to use her own head and mind to reach her goals (Gaskell, 185). She has to work hard to reach her aims and, what is more important, she succeeds in this regard.
The different social standing of Marry and Emily makes these characters quite different. The difference in the social standing of the main characters of both novels defines the difference in their behavior. In fact, Mary seduces men, whereas Emily is seduced by the man. Mary belongs to the lower class of the society and she has to struggle to improve her position in the society and to improve the quality of her life (Gaskell, 154). In actuality, Mary is perfectly aware of what it is like to live in poverty. This is why she uses her sexuality to seduce the mill’s son and, thus, to take a higher social standing, whereas her love to the worker is rather a physical and spiritual intimacy than a reasonable choice or inclination of the main character.
In contrast, Emily does not know what it is to live in poverty. She always has what she needs and she does not really care about her future because she is certain that her father or any other man she relies on will support her. Therefore, Emily is guided by emotions and feelings, whereas Mary is guided by reason mainly, although emotions and feelings still play an important part in her life. She belongs to the upper class of the society (Phillips, 194). This is why she does not know how to take care of herself, how to earn for living and how to survive in the world dominated by men. As a result, Emily turns out to be defenseless in face of male predators that use her for their own purposes, as the plantation’s manager does. In this regard, Emily is totally different from Mary, who does know what it is to live on her own without any external support.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that both female characters Mary and Emily created by Gaskell in “Mary Barton” and Phillips in “Cambridge” are typical female characters who suffer from their inferiority as females because they are constantly exposed to the oppression from the part of men. The two women represent two distinct but antagonistic classes but still they preserve similarities in terms of the oppression by and dependence on men. In such a situation, Emily, a representative of the lower class, proves to be capable to survive in the cruel world and reach her ends, to earn for living and just use her full potential. In contrast, Mary proves to be unable to live in the world dominated by men and she just becomes a puppet in hand of male puppeteers.

Works Cited:
Gaskell, E. Mary Barton. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.
Philips, C. Cambridge. New York: Touchstone, 2007.

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell and Cambridge by Caryl Phillips 8.7 of 10 on the basis of 1041 Review.