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Classism is a form of social justice that focuses on the difference of status between groups and individuals. They are recognized through numerous ways in the media and within society. It establishes the idea that members of society should be perceived differently based on the class they belong to. In the end, people have the desire to meet such standards to the extent that their individuality and accord with one another is affected. The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel written by Margaret Atwood in the twentieth century.
The story revolves around a female character that tells the story from her perspective about the specific class each character is defined by. Each class has a clear-cut role and behaviour to practice in the Gilead Republic.
In Wuthering Heights, a novel written by Emily Bronte, the story takes place in the nineteenth century. It is focused on the distinction between the two families of different classes. Characters introduced in this novel are defined by their actions and physical attributes.
In The Handmaid’s Tale and Wuthering Heights, classism is a central topic presented by how the members within the societies dress and act accordingly to their class, the effect it has on the character’s growth and individuality throughout the novel, as well as how this affects relationships between the classes through the way they treat one another.In The Handmaid’s Tale, members of society are required to act and dress appropriately according to their class. They are separated into male and female classes ranking them from lowest to highest in the Gilead Republic. One of these classes include Econowives. They wear …striped dresses, red and blue and green and cheap and skimpywomen of poorer men (Atwood 24). In this quote, we are able to understand that Econowives are a specific low ranked female class because they are women that marry poorer men, as well as dress in the colours of red, blue and green to represent that their class has …to do everything if they can (Atwood 24). Their clothing is of poor quality and they are already expected to do everything by themselves. Another class introduced in the novel are the Handmaids; women who dress in …red shoes…red gloves…everything except the wings…the colour of blood (Atwood 8). Handmaids dress in red to represent fertility because their class is expected to bear children in society. For Martha’s, they dress in their …usual Martha’s dress, which is dull green (Atwood 9). The Martha’s are another low female class that only dress in green to represent their role as servants under the Commander’s household. Therefore, characters in the novel adhere to the standards of each class by dressing a certain way to represent their role in society. Classism is also exemplified by the way members of society act and dress according to their class in Wuthering Heights. It is mostly distinguished between the characters Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff Earnshaw throughout the novel. For example, … commenced her plan of reform to raise her sleep-respect with fine clothes, and flattery … instead of a wild, hatless little savage jumping into the house, rushing to squeeze us all breathless, there lighted … a very dignified person with brown ringlets … (Bronte 54). This quote explains how Catherine’s physical and mental demeanor had changed after her stay at Thrushcross Grange. Catherine had changed to meet the standards of how a lady should dress and act. She was taught to dress appropriately so that her self-respect would be raised, and now has grown into a woman that people can glorify because she no longer acts like a hatless little savage. Another quote in the novel is, … I had a peep at a dirty, ragged black-haired child … its face looked older than Catherine … (Bronte 37). When Heathcliff was first introduced to the Earnshaw family, he looked unclean and immediately was perceived as an uneducated being by the way he would talk. Hindley is a character that continued to treat Heathcliff of low class, and genuinely believes that he deserves it because of his physical appearance and social standings which were different from his own. Moreover, Heathcliff himself wishes that he could be as well dressed and behaved as the other characters. He wants to be accepted as a high class male, yet is treated lowly because of his physical and mental demeanor. The quote that proves this is, I wish I had light hair and a fair skin, and was dressed, and behaved as well, and had a chance being as rich as he will be! (Bronte 56). In both novels, the way characters dress and act is evidence of how different classes are identified. Each class wears a specific clothing that adheres to what society expects them to wear. Lower classes tend to dress in ragged clothing, whereas the higher class have better quality materials to wear. Women will dress more modestly as men will dress more professionally because that is what high class people should physically look like in society. On the other hand, women and men of lower class tend to dress in worn out clothes. Similarly, the nature of a person’s class is determined by their physical attire. In other words, the roles of classes can be separated as well as quickly identified uniquely by what is displayed externally. If one were to wear high quality clothing, and dress simple but elegant, you are considered high class. Be as it may, if one were to wear low quality clothing that appears worn out, you are automatically considered of low class. As a result, it is clear that members of society unwillingly follow the way each class dresses and acts accordingly. Characters in The Handmaid’s Tale are affected by classism because both their development and individualism is challenged heavily by the various types of classes introduced. In the novel, only The Aunts are allowed to read and write (Atwood 129). They are one of the highest ranked female classes permitted to read in the Gilead Republic. This class is in charge of educating and ordering the Handmaids around. It is understood from this quote that the low ranked female classes may not be able to read, let alone have developed skills to read. It challenges them as individuals because reading was such a luxury to possess in their society. When Offred speaks of her name she says, My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses because it’s forbidden (Atwood 84). Based on Offred’s class, they are not allowed to use their real name and in turn affects their individuality as their own person. Instead of being able to use their real name, Offred is given one to inform others of which Commander she is assigned to bear children for. The Handmaiden belongs to Commander Fred because her name is Offred; she is unable to be her own self because she is considered property of another being. Similarly, Offred no longer considers herself as non-other than a thing. She is unable to compose herself in the way she wants, but to how others want her to be and how she is expected be specifically because of the class she belongs to. This is proven in the quote, My self is a thing I must now compose, as one composes a speech. What I must present is a made thing or something born (Atwood 9). The development and individualism of characters in Wuthering Heights are also affected by the difference of classes in society. In the novel, there is a specific quote where it is understood that Linton and Cathy tease Hareton about his inability to read. He does not know his lettersCould you believe in the existence of such a colossal dunce? Is he all as he should be…Or is he simple…not right? I’ve questioned him twice now, and each time he looked so stupid I think he does not understand me; I can hardly understand him, I’m sure!’ (Bronte 220). It is not Hareton’s fault that he is unable to read like Linton and Cathy. In the previous chapters, Heathcliff said that Hareton belongs to him, and will be treated the way Hindley (Hareton’s father) had treated him before. For this reason, it had affected his development in learning how to read, as well as growing up to believe that the way he is being treated by Heathcliff is perfectly fine, that he should do the same. In turn, because Hareton belongs to Heathcliff, he is unable to become his own individual since he is cannot decide simple tasks for himself. Another example of development and individuality being challenged is the way Heathcliff questions Isabella concerning whether she is able to make decisions for herself. The quote that proves this is, …Can I trust your assertion, Isabella? Are you sure you hate me? If I let you alone for half-a-day, won’t you come signing and wheedling to me again? (Bronte 159). Heathcliff manipulates Isabella to think that though he is abusive towards her, that she is unable to survive without him. He implies that she is in constant need of reassurance and care, but she knows that it is not ture. Yet, the development of herself in relation to Heathcliff may be changing the way she perceives herself, that she may in fact become dependant on him. Another quote demonstrates the idea that the way Catherine Earnshaw treats Heathcliff affects himself as an individual as well. What good do I get-What do you talk about? You might be dumb or a baby for anything you say to amuse me, or for anything you do, either!’ (Bronte 72). Catherine’s reaction to how Heathcliff takes notice of her seemed annoyed. This affects Heathcliff because instead of being somewhat appreciated for the way he cares to take notice of her, she retorts back with questions to why he is unable to talk about something that matters more. Catherine goes on to insult him by implying that Heathcliff would do anything to amuse her only because he acts like a child who does not have much knowledge of the world. In this case, it is evident that a character’s development and individualism is affected by classism on the grounds that certain classes are not permitted or have not the opportunity to be educated. Those of high class are assumed to be educated with the development of having the ability to read and write. Whereas those of low class, it is believed that they are not educated as well as unable to read and write. The process of self-development concerning skills can vary from class to class as well. What affects the character’s individualism is the manipulation of how other classes treat them. Individuals classified to be in low society tend to work for the higher classes as servants in the household. They are considered property rather than living beings, and are always given tasks to be completed. In other words, they are owned by another and must do what they are told, even if it may be something they do not decide to genuinely do. At the same time, it does not have to be one of higher class to be able to manipulate a person. It can be of anyone who has greater power in a relationship and the capacity to control another. In both novels, there are specific characters that reveal the reason why one would treat someone in such a horrible way because of their past. Characters in the novels can be degrading and unkind to others for the reason that they do not like or approve of because of the class they are identified as part of. Therefore, classism is portrayed through the challenges the characters undergo concerning their development and individuality. While development and individuality is challenged by classism, relationships are correspondingly affected as well. They are demonstrated by the way the characters treat one another. In The Handmaid’s Tale, classism is most evident in the relationships Handmaids have within society. In the beginning, the author acknowledges that …it’s the red dress she disapproves of, and what it stands for (Atwood 10). This quote illustrates the idea that the Handmaid’s class is not a class that should be accepted in their society. Though they are the only women with the ability to bear children, other classes such as the Marthas in this particular quotation don’t feel the same way. Those who wear the red dresses are thought of as less, and it is believed that other classes should not respect them for their role in society. Yet, when a Handmaid becomes the carrier of life, the classes will conduct themselves differently around these women. The higher ranked classes believe that the Handmaid’s should be awarded by allowing them certain luxuries during their pregnancy. At the same time, it also means that security is essential to keep them safe. This is because other women of different classes’ jealousy may result in endangering the Handmaids since they are able to carry life. This is suggested through the quote, Now that she’s the carrier of life, she is closer to death, and needs for special security (Atwood 26). Agreed to it right away, really she didn’t care, anything with two legs and a good you-know-what was fine with her. They aren’t squeamish, they don’t have the same feelings we do! (Atwood 215). In addition, this quote shows that the Wives believe Handmaids will reluctantly agree to anything that will be of good use to them. They believe the Handmaids have no principles to follow unlike them. They forget they are also humans who endure the same feelings through different experiences as everyone else does in the Gilead Republic. These are the following examples of how relationships in The Handmaid’s Tale are affected.With this in mind, relationships that are affected between classes in Wuthering Heights are clearly observed through their actions amongst one another as well. One example in particular would be when Hindley called Heathcliff to welcome Miss Catherine back like all the other servants had done. It is significant because it was the way he had called him and added that he was like the other servants in the end. From the beginning of the novel, Hindley had already been treating Heathcliff horribly by treating him like another servant around the household. Heathcliff does not need any permission to greet a visitor in the home he lives in, yet Hindley calls to him to grant permission when greeting Miss Catherine. This is observed in the quote, Heathcliff you may come forward…you may come and wish Miss Catherine welcome, like the other servants (Bronte 55). Catherine treats Heathcliff in a similar way concerning his class as well. And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest women of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband (Bronte 82). Catherine decides to marry Edgar Linton for materialistic purposes rather than love. When she came back home from Thrushcross Grange, her whole demeanor changed. Catherine believes that class and what someone possesses is more important in another individual. A significant partner is someone she can show off and feel proud in marrying agreeing with the public’s approval. In reality, Catherine only had one true love – Heathcliff. Yet, Catherine believed that she would be looked down upon for loving such a low class man. Lastly, because of the way Hindley behaved towards Heathcliff from the beginning of the novel, it has had a great impact on Heathcliff’s relationships with others. He’s not a human being…and he has no claim on my charity – I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death; and flung it back to me – people feel with their hearts…since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him, and I would not, though he groaned from this, to his dying day; and wept tears of blood for Catherine! (Bronte 182). Heathcliff has become abusive and degrading towards others, including his wife. He does not appreciate her affection, and understand why she is hurting. It has come to the point where Heathcliff’s wife no longer feels any emotion to him but anger and imprisonment. Their relationship has not helped each other grow together, but rather apart. Heathcliff is incredibly hurt on the inside that he is unable to distinguish the worst in himself towards others.Similarly, both societies will experience the long lasting effects of classism through their relationships with others. A character’s perception to how another individual should be treated is assumed upon their class. Therefore, the high class will automatically treat lowly of others since they are already of higher degree. In both novels, most members of the low class society are considered servants in high class households. They are understood to be properties of higher classes rather than equal human beings. The way one class is treated can have an impact on how one will behave in the future as well. That behaviour will lead the person to believe that how they are treated is how others should be treated as well. In contrast between the classes, the social standings and practices that differentiates them from one another can affect how one feels for the other. If those social standings or practices of one side does not meet the other, conflict can be forged. The numerous classes cause separation within society, at the same time creates obstacles between one another. It reduces the ability for others to try to understand what one feels because they are of different class, which in turn sets the idea of inequality amongst the groups. As a result, the classes will continue to treat one another in such ways that their relationships become affected as well.In conclusion, The Handmaid’s Tale and Wuthering Heights thoroughly present the theme of classism through their plots. In both novels, members of society should dress and act accordingly to their class. The difference of classes can affect development and individuality as well. Finally, the relationships between communities are affected due to the distinction in classes.All things considered, classism isolates individuals and groups because of the difference in status. It is identified in everyday life through media and within society.
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