Equality In Victorian Literature

Equality in society seemed to be a contradicting concept during the time of Victorian literature. Concerning this, I found two passages that related to the idea of freedom during the nineteenth-century. On the one hand, some people believed that everyone in society deserved equality. While on the other hand, some people thought that if everyone was equal and comfortable, life’s pleasures would not be appreciated. Although these concepts were written during the Victorian era, they are still relevant today. 

As made clear in Society in America, Harriet Martineau believed that all people deserved to be treated equally. Her reasoning for this belief is different, yet it makes sense. She stated that “no person’s interests can be, or can be ascertained to be, identical with those of any other person.” Since we are all individuals, there is no way that we can all act or look the same. However, we should not be treated differently because of this. Interestingly, this belief is still shared by many people today. The fact that we’re all human beings should justify the fact that we all deserve equality. Sadly, this is not the case since some people feel as though our differences divide us too much to make equality a reality.

In John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, he makes it clear that his stance on equality was a bit different than Martineau’s. In a way, he seemed to question equality for everyone. Rather than completely disagreeing with the concept, he said that if everyone “were free and in a state of physical comfort, the pleasures of life” would cease to be pleasures. He believed that if everyone knew what it was like to be equal and comfortable at all times, they would not understand what it would feel like to find pleasure in life after struggling. Although I can understand his point of view, I don’t necessarily agree with it. Are certain comforts worth not knowing what it feels like to be free? In my opinion, they’re not. People should not have to sacrifice equality for comfort. It should be a right, not something that has to be fought for. 

These passages both represent the two viewpoints relating to freedom and equality during the Victorian era. Even though they were both written during the same century, both authors had differing opinions on the matter. While Martineau thought that freedom should be an automatic right, Mill felt like people should have to work towards equality. What I find most interesting is that these two opinions are still a part of our society. It causes me to wonder if equality for all will ever be agreed upon. While everyone has the right to think what they want to about equality, nobody should have the right to take someone’s freedom away. 

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