From Commodity To Independent Womanhood, the Spiritual Transformation of Mary Barton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton College
Mary Barton is a story of material temptation, sexual seduction and spiritual transformation. The character Mary Barton is an impoverished girl with considerable material ambitions who is seduced by the lavish wealth of her rich suitor. Mary’s lifelong poverty leaves her with the fervent desire to secure material comforts. Her experience as a dressmaker in a frivolous milliner shop also imbues her with a trace of vanity. This combination of vanity and materialism turns Mary into an aspiring social climber, which makes her highly susceptible to the seduction of the rich Harry Carson. Mary is tempted by Harry’s wealth and treats his seduction as a golden opportunity for social advancement. For the first half of the novel, Mary focuses on her goal of using ber beauty to ensnare Harry into marriage so she can become a lady of leisure. Her attraction to Harry is entirely mercenary. By seeking to capitalize through her physical beauty and to marry a man whom she has no romantic attachment, Mary turns herself into a sexual commodity awaiting purchase by a man who can afford her. However, Mary experiences a life changing epiphany in the middle of the novel which completely alters outlook on life. This epiphany purges her of her vanity...
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