Connections in Lit – Carlyle and Martineau

Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present and Harriet Martineau’s Society in America were written within six years of each other, and it is because of this that I find the stark contrast between their social ideologies so compelling. At its most basic, the main difference is obviously Martineau’s persistence for the equality of women and Carlyle’s disinterest in allowing for any change in the social hierarchy if it infringes upon the power that men have (in relation to women or minorities). This is blatant, and it is a consistent theme throughout this time period, as women pushing for equal rights would continue to remain prevalent through the 20th century. However, my intrigue in this comparison is due to the distinct difference in how Carlyle and Martineau strive to get their point across. Carlyle, in essence, idealizes a feudal work system where there is nobility in living a difficult life, draws from the Bible for nearly every argument he states, and overall exudes an arrogant persona. Martineau is substantially more concise in her argument, and instead of clouding her values with religious imagery, she primarily uses the Constitution and basic definitions to showcase how the United States is very contradictory in its treatment of women. An important distinction is that Martineau is looking to propel society forward, whereas Carlyle is looking to the past for guidance, often referencing values of nobility and chivalry. This is apparent towards the end of Section VII where Martineau states “The kings of Europe would have laughed mightily, two centuries ago, at the idea of a commoner, without robes, crown, or sceptre, stepping into the throne of a strong nation. Yet who dared to laugh when Washington’s super-royal voice greeted the New World from the presidential chair, and the old world stood still to catch the echo?”. Martineau is saying that at one point even the President of the United States, who is held in such high regard, was viewed as “less than” in comparison to others. Although hindsight should be noted, Carlyle’s argument seems very antiquated both in his ideals and execution compared to Martineau.

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