Themes

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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 665

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One of the most noticeable themes in the novel is the importance of social class and manners. This is seen when Mrs. Bramble meets Humphry Clinker and is repulsed by his clothing choices; Clinker is too poor to afford a shirt, and his pants, too big for his thin and emaciated body, begin to slip down his backside. Not having a shirt was enough to upset Mrs. Bramble, who strives to present herself as a lady with of the upper class with highly refined manners. But when his pants begin to slip down, Mrs. Bramble cannot put up with her carriage driver (Clinker) for another moment:

She exhibited a formal complaint against the poor fellow who had superseded the postilion. She said, he was such a beggarly rascal, that he had ne'er a shirt to his back; and had the impudence to shock her sight by shewing his bare posteriors (May 24).

Mrs. Bramble claims to be greatly shocked by the sight of this man's partial nakedness. She wants him to be far from her sight, even though he is in great need of work to provide himself with clothing and food. It seems that she is more concerned about what others might think of her, with such a poor driver in such tattered clothing, than Humphry Clinker's well-being.

Mrs. Bramble, so highly focused on her social class, is also greatly concerned with the amount of money her family has. She writes to her friend, Mrs. Gwyllim, the housekeeper of her home (Brambleton-hall),

My brother is little better than Noncompush. He would give away the shirt off his back, and the teeth out of his head; nay, as for that matter, he would have ruinated the family with his ridiculous charities. . . . What between his willfullness and his waste, his frumps, and his frenzy, I lead the life of an indented slave (April 26).

In this passage, Mrs. Bramble worries that her brother might be too generous with their money. She claims that she is deprived and living the life of a slave while her brother helps other people. However, readers can easily see that Mrs. Bramble's needs are all met. (It is, however, evident that she has less say over money and decisions, as a single woman in the eighteenth century, than her brother does.)

Other characters also place great value on social class and manners. For instance, while Mr. Bramble is in London, he notices how the social classes seem to be blending. He is surprised to find that:

The gayest places of public entertainment are filled with fashionable figures; which, upon inquiry, will be found to be journeymen taylors, serving-men, and abigails, disguised like their betters. In short, there is no distinction or subordination left—The different departments of life are jumbled together. . . . In a word, the whole nation seems to be running out of their wits (May 29).

Mr. Bramble, like his sister, is proud of his high social standing. He is upset to find that laborers are taking on the appearance of the upper class and visiting the same places that upper-class individuals are going. Social classes are discussed throughout the novel.

Even the young Lydia Melford is highly concerned with her class, manners, and social position. She writes to Miss Laetitia Willis:

And lady Griskin, by whom we were introduced, flatly told her, she was twenty good years behind the fashion. Lady Griskin is a person of fashion, to whom we have the honour to be related. She keeps a small rout at her own house, never exceeding ten or a dozen card-tables, but these are frequented by the best company in town (May 31).

Lydia talks less about money and focuses instead on the clothing choices and material belongings of the people around her. She also likes to consider her blood relations and how these connections can add to her prestige and importance.

A few other themes in the novel include the following:

  • Kindness and generosity
  • Colonialism and primitivism
  • Travel and personal growth
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