Each of these three works depicts a flawed society in which societal divisions exploit a “secondary” class. In “Vanity Fair,” the narrator clearly establishes in the story a strict division between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in which the wealthy elite divide themselves based on frivolous materialism. While there are numerous examples of this, one of the more humorous examples of this can be seen in the relationship of Rebecca and Mrs. Crawley. When serving as a governess, Mrs. Crawley is quickly taken with Rebecca Sharp. In just a short amount of time, Mrs. Crawley insists that Rebecca come live with her and quickly the two become seemingly very close. However, once Mrs. Crawley discovers that Rebecca has secretly married Rawdon and can no longer look at her as merely a servant, she loses her composure. While Mrs. Crawley was fine with Rebecca as a governess, the idea of someone of such low birth and status marrying someone of higher status was simply out of the question—a virtual social crisis (Thackeray, 120-143).
In “A Visit to Newgate,” Dickens also seems to focus on the divisions of society. Dickens writing seems to capture a new element of the divide between classes in arguing that the people outside of the prison are entirely ignorant to what is happening to the people inside the prison. Dickens seems to use the divide between the imprisoned and the free not to directly reflect those who are “good and bad,” but rather to demonstrate those who are trapped by a certain social affiliation without the possibility of escape—he similarly is reflecting on the free, or in the affluent class, as being ignorant to the struggles of those in captivity. He expounds on this by highlighting that even in this captive class there are those who are considered of “more respectable class” than others, yet even these are excluded from the outside, acceptable society (Dickens, 1243).
The third work, “The Cry of the Children” also focuses on the exploitation of a lesser class. However in this case there is a much different victim. In Browning’s writing, the children are being forced to work tirelessly in mines and factories—such to the point that they would prefer death. Browning much like Dickens portrays a situation in which society (as well as God in this case) have forgotten about the sufferings of the children and have abandoned them: “but no…He is speechless as a stone: and they tell us of His image is the master who commands us to work on” (Browning, 624).
Each of these works represents society in terms of a divide between the elite and the exploited. Thackery mocks the irony of the elite class’ sense of superiority while Dickens and Browning seem to make much stronger attempts at getting the reader to recognize the flaws of society and evaluate their own world through the same clarity. Ultimately I believe Dickens, through his imagery of the prison does this most effectively of the three works. He clearly establishes a world where the elite have “imprisoned” the lowest class and hold them captive through their control of the system.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. The Cry of the Children. 1800. Baylor University Libraries. 623-625. Print.
Dickens, Charles. A Visit to Newgate. 1835-1836. Baylor University Libraries. 1239-1248. Print.
Thackeray, W.M. Vanity Fair. New York: Norton & Company, 1994. 1-689. Print.