Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Gilded Age and Jack the Ripper

The industrial and social progress brought about by the Gilded Age caused heavy anxiety as it bulldozed its way through the 1880s and 90s. Ways of life, social classes, rights, and order considered the norm were rapidly being challenged, and few people knew how to react towards this rapid change with anything other than worry and fear. There gradually became less of a focus on the routine, rural, working-man and housewife ideals and more of an awareness of a larger, overshadowing entity pulling the strings – in this case, the cities – that severed these traditional ideals and dragged these individuals into a new order. This helpless feeling (of not changing the course of social development no matter how much influence one thinks they have) is shared in From Hell specifically. As there is no stopping the industrial growth and overpowering influence of the upcoming cities, there was no stopping the murders. They are “predestined,” so to speak, further fueling the aforementioned anxiety.

Changes in social classes were also paralelled. With the growth of these cities came more jobs, and more variation in jobs, and consequently created a brand new class – the middle class. The middle class did not necessarily filled a void between the rich and poor; rather, this new class left the poor with only the worst of the worst jobs, only furthering the gap between the rich and poor. With the emergence of these nearly super poor, coupled with terrible living conditions and crowded cities, the poor needed to seek income elsewhere, crossing into socially “grey” areas, including crime and prostitution. Needless to say, these slummy communities snowballed in dissatisfaction, and these individuals were treated almost as subhuman in terms of rights and laws. This was discussed in From Hell in that the murdered women – prostitues, from Whitechapel, were less likely to be sought out or deeply investigated by the police due to their low social positions – and it was so.

Finally, women experienced drastic change during the Gilded Age. As mentioned, lower class women would become prostitutes in order to make some sort of living, which was stark contrast between the traditional woman and the “new” woman. The traditional woman was supposed to be pure, Christian, and clean. Prostitution was, of course, socially frowned upon, and challenged everything the traditional woman stood for. While not all new women had become prostitutes, this was a small glimpse into the independence women sought in the 1890s. This independent woman likewise caused anxiety, as it was so entirely different from tradition, and this transformation from tradition into the raunchy industrial life was more than needed to terrify onlookers. All in all, the largest, broadest correspondence between the Gilded Age transformations and events of From Hell was this transformation from tradition into the unknown future, and the fear that shadowed it infinitely.

No comments:

Post a Comment