The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844–Friedrich Engels

Society’s Secret

After perusing Friedrich Engels’s The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, modern readers will inevitably ask: why is the working class treated in such terrible ways?

“the working people’s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle class…”

What is it about the working class that brings such disdain to upper class?  The working class is, indeed, like society’s secret.  Engels gives readers insightful observations about their conditions.  The neighborhoods of the working class are shoddy and filthy; streets are filled with muck and garbage, and the air is scented with obscene odors and fumes.  It is quite obvious that the conditions of the working class are greatly disjointed from the elevated conditions of the upper classes.

“…they suffice to conceal from the eyes of the wealthy men and women of strong stomachs and weak nerves the misery and grime which form the complement to their wealth.”

It is the latter part of Engels’s sentence which reveals a possible answer to the treatment of the working class.  The wealthy are not unaware of these conditions; often does man choose ignorance over action in a situation that makes him uncomfortable.  The pursuit of wealth is more attractive to the wealthy than to admit the conditions of the working class, and it is the working class, ironically, that “complements” the riches of the upper classes.  Admitting the conditions also means acknowledging their own attitudes and lifestyles: a gluttonous and selfish quest for money.  Society is not prepared for such a realization.

 

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