The Retailoring of Society

The excerpt from Harriet Martineau’s Society in America, “Political Nonexistence of Women,” deals with a concept established in the Declaration of Independence: consent of the governed. Specifically, Martineau makes the claim that women, by virtue of being entirely excluded from all political activity, are being controlled by a government to which they have never assented to. Ultimately, Martineau calls for a reformation of the government through suffrage and equal representation for women.

Thomas Carlyle employs the metaphor of clothing in Sartor Resartus to communicate the need for social change. Instead of focusing this argument on the basis of gender, however, Carlyle calls for action from the oppressed classes who are forced into their societal roles with little say in the matter. He urges them to reject the customary clothing that was pushed upon them and to make their own clothing. This directly relates to the issue of consent of the governed that Martineau speaks about in her piece. While there is some ambiguity in Sartor Resartus as to who has the authority to restructure, or retailor, governmental and societal institutions, Martineau maintains that women be given equal representation in political matters. This effectively tasks women with the responsibility, or perhaps rather the right, to retailor such institutions.

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