Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Story of Jack the Ripper vs The Gilded Age

The main mystery shrouding the case of Jack the Ripper is how he could have committed his crimes in an area as densely populated as Whitechapel, London. In the 1880s, this area faced problems associated with industry, particularly in regards to overcrowding as immigrants flooded in, searching for work opportunities. In From Hell, a fictional take on the true story of Jack the Ripper by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, we are introduced to characters hailing from Ireland, who left their home country in search of the fruits of industry (particularly in the form of job opportunities). The harsh reality of this ideal is portrayed in From Hell in that this immigrant is a prostitute -- one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, in fact – and is struggling to make ends meet. She expresses a wish that she never even left her homeland. Due to the excessive amount of people within Whitechapel, job opportunities were scarce and the unemployed were forced into jobs which were morally questionable, a fact which is extensively dealt with in From Hell. When it was down to starvation and prostitution, many women of the time period were forced into turning to selling their bodies. As a result, it grew to the point where the law began to brush aside enforcing laws against prostitution. This is shown in From Hell, as well: when a prostitute tries to sell herself to Abberline, he reacts negatively and commands a police officer to arrest her immediately. The officer responds with reluctance, saying that they usually just let the street women do as they wish.

Drunkenness also raged on during this time in Whitechapel – a fact which is definitely linked to low members of the working class and unemployment rates. Bars and taverns were established and gained a high amount of popularity. Due to the sheer excessive nature of Whitechapel, the presence of these establishments only fueled societal problems, especially with prostitution, if looked at in regards to the story of Jack the Ripper.

Though the location is different, the story of Jack the Ripper reflects concerns which America experienced during its Gilded Age. As it was with all countries undergoing industrial change, the fruits of industry were dramatized and shown off whilst the harsh realities of it lurked beneath the surface. Whitechapel’s Jack the Ripper can serve to embody the lurking negative side of industry, as he himself crept in the shadows to carry out his brutal “ripping” of prostitutes. Though his true historical identity is to this day unknown, in From Hell, Jack the Ripper’s motive was in regards to secret service towards the crown. This brings up further issues which link his story to the Gilded Age; namely, corruption and inequality within the class system and abuse of power for the upper class’ definition of “the greater good.”

The issues of immigration influx, overcrowding, lack of job opportunities (which thus resulted in skyrocketing crime rates and prostitution rates), and class inequality were surely shared between industrial England during the time of Jack the Ripper and industrial America during the Gilded Age.

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