How does the Industrial Revolution influence social class in Silas Marner?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Industrial Revolution did of course have widespread ramifications on class in English society, as the position of the working class became much more difficult and trying than before and it also led to a wider divide between the working class and the middle and upper classes, who were able to profit from the labour of the cheap working class. This is something of a generalisation of course, but the Industrial Revolution saw a rapid urbanisation of major cities and the creation of crowded, unhygenic living conditions. Note what Eppie says when she and Silas Marner visit Lantern Yard at the end of the novel:

“O father, I'm like as if I was stifled,” said Eppie. “I couldn't ha' thought as any folks lived i' this way, so close together. How pretty the Stone-pits 'ull look when we get back!”

The grim reality of life for so many who experienced the Industrial Revolution first hand was urban squalour, and so the Industrial Revolution could be said to be a means by which class divisions which were already prevalent at the time are merely reinforced. Note though the way in which this novel challenges class distinctions: Silas, who is an outsider and at the bottom of the social heap, nonetheless shows himself to be a better man than Godfrey, who is his social superior.


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