Each poem we read this week spoke to the particular idea of work and capitalism in the Victorian Era when factories were creating a materialistic society for everyone and inflation of currency occurred. A lack of money coupled with gouged prices created a world where people were treated less like humans and more as cheap labor, especially as it took a while to get any sort of labor laws instituted, or even get them enforced. Higher demand meant that there was a greater need for people who could create the products wanted, but that also meant that these people would be worked to near death in order to achieve the desired results.
John Davidson’s poem, “Thirty Bob a Week” shows a small slice of what the life of an upper-working class person who has a family to feed on a small sum of money each week. The narrator shares with (who I presume to be his boss) how hard it is to live on what little money he makes, and that this person he is speaking to does not understand what it is like to be stuck in a dead-end job just barely making ends meet. We see this highlighted in the lines, “I mean that having children and a wife, / With thirty bob on which to come and go, / Isn’t dancing to the tabor and the fife;” (38 – 40) it is at this moment that he actually states that living on a small sum in very difficult and not at all fun.
The poem that I was most taken with out of those we read today would have to be Thomas Hood’s “Song of a Shirt”, because it detailed exactly how I picture the Industrial Age in my mind. All of the imagery in this poem seems to project the amount of pain that was felt by all workers who were forced to endure terrible situations in order to live from day to day. A particular segment caught my eye, “Sewing at once, with a double thread, / A Shroud as well as a Shirt,” (31 -32) because there is this imagery of the double thread and being caught in a sort of loop of the Industrial Era, and it directly linking to death. We see more links between death and consumerism or industrialization in Browning’s “The Cry of the Children” when the children speak of a girl named Alice who died and they muse that, “Was no room for any work in the close clay” (42). Due to the fact that Alice is dead she now no longer has to work in the factory or mine anymore.
Stepping back a little from the direct links to the workers themselves in the theme for this week, we see two other poems that show something more like capitalism or materialism. The first, Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters”, give a rather abstract look on materialism in the Victorian Era, but the moment that the mariners partake of the lotos fruit they are lulled into a state of apathy for everything around them. “Eating the Lotos day by day, / To watch the crisping ripples on the beach, / to lend our hearts and spirits wholly / To the influence of mild-minded melancholy,” (105 – 109) shows this idea of forgetting about everything else when focused on needing something, and how this need can overrule all other thoughts. Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” bears a story of capitalism gone wrong as well or the need for something overriding all common sense. “I ate and ate my fill, / Yet my mouth waters still;” (165 – 166) shows that thought that has run through most people’s minds that what they have had will never be enough to sate their need. There is so much pressure to buy things that we do not need, but this is just the way that capitalism continues to move.