Characters & Social Class Conflict
The conflict and tensions between different social classes is a recurring theme throughout the book. Each character occupies a particular social position within society and the estate on which the book is set can be viewed as a microcosm of society at the time. The fact that all of these characters are forced together due to the circumstances created by the war helps to foreground the tensions between and within them, and helps to reveal their attitudes and feelings towards each other. There are also many incidents within the novel which help to highlight this theme.
A woman in conflict between the competing influences of her father (a Christian judge who believed in compassion and justice) and her husband (a traditional landed aristocrat who believes that an ordered society is based on privilege, breeding, rank and subservience). See p.41 (p54) – ‘the contradiction between her emulation of Christ and her eminence as a baronet’s wife’; a conflict between principle and status.
She is forced to live by a strict class code (the upper classes) which entails treating the lower orders as her inferiors in rank but without condescension. See pp 111-112 (pp.138-141) & p.163 (p.201) – ‘Even in a church itself … there could be none of this fatal throwing away of the privileges and responsiblities of rank. If the minister was socially inferior, he must even with his robes be treated with that correct degree of condescension which was never offensive but which indubitably was the true preserver of society.’ Her husband sees it as their duty and responsibility to preserve things as they are. Those even lower down the social scale are seen as dangerous particularly given the context of war: ‘They’re still brutes.. After the war they’ll be trying to drag us down to their level. It’s up to us to see they don’t manage it.’
LRC has to deal with her internal struggle and also the external public conflict between herself and her son Roderick who challenges her decisions at every turn. Roderick can be viewed as his mother’s conscience within the novel.
In many ways we can be sympathetic to LRC’s dilemma: she wants to do right in each situation but has to submerge her instincitve social and Christian compassion in favour of the demands of her position. However, she does have a choice and in the end (as is seen with…