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“The left-hand does not know what the right hand is doing” is a good way of describing the situation between workers and masters during the industrial period. The divide between the two is so great that it is surprising that a literal chasm has not opened up to prevent the two from interacting. The problem between the two parties is one is so concerned with the big picture that they fail to see the problems occurring with the smaller details. Managers look at issues such as productivity, the need for workers to meet quotas and how their very jobs are on the line if the workers fail to meet the desired level of performance of the company. The problem is that employees are people and managers simply fail to take this simple matter into consideration. They are so concerned with their own performance that they fail to see how it is impacting workers at a basic level.
Workers and Masters
Workers, on the other hand, are no better than the masters they despise. While it is true that they feel the brunt of the problems when it comes to the business operations, they fail to see the need for metrics, why staying competitive often requires hard work otherwise the entire enterprise may fail. This was seen in the case of the market fluctuations which caused considerable problems for the profitability of Mr. Thornton’s business. However, the workers barely pay attention to such circumstances because they are too concerned with “minding their own business” (131).
Workers and Masters are in essence, two sides of the same coin that fail to see eye to eye with one another. It is like the blind leading the blind in this case since the masters are just as blind as the workers when it comes to the obvious issues they are facing. In the book, you cannot help but get the impression that the masters and workers are in a situation where the Titanic is sinking, and yet the people on it (obviously, the masters and the workers) are arguing over the buffet that was served that morning. Imagine such a ridiculous situation where the very ship you are on is sinking with each passing second, yet the people in charge (e.g. the masters) and the passengers (e.g. the workers) are arguing over the quality of the food and why some items that should have been served were not.
They are oblivious to the external factors surrounding them and are concerned only with the problem that is right in front of their face (Gaskell 112). This is, in essence, exactly what is the main issue in the novel since what occurs is the creation of a rivalry and hatred that excludes all other factors aside from what is directly in front of their face. The workers “want to be the masters, and make the masters into slaves on their own ground” (112). The ship is going down, and yet all they seem to care about is proving their side to be correct or airing grievances that show them that what they are fighting for is justified under the context they have developed.
Lack of Understanding
In a certain light, it can be argued that, ultimately, both masters and workers are slaves that fail to see the forest for the trees. These two parties realize the presence of each other but do not truly understand one another (Gaskell 117). They know about what the other person does but not of the other person’s suffering, and each regards the other as wrong and yet believes themselves to be right. One of the best ways to see the disconnect between managers and workers is the disconnect between Mr. Thornton and the workers when he attempts to make his speech in front of them. Yes, his intentions are good, and by all rights much of what he says is true.
However, Mr. Thornton fails to take into consideration the perspective of his audience because he has not walked a mile in the workers’ shoes, he does not understand their woes and grievances. All of this is also supported by the fact that money is not what he actually strives for (Gaskell 327). Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume that his words are perceived as coming from an innocent waif who has been shut in his ivory tower and only now realizes the need to enact some form of assistance before it is too late. It comes as no surprise that the workers get angry, they feel infuriated over someone that does not know their plight telling them what to do. It is thought of as a slight against them and, as such, it is no wonder that they wanted to lynch Mr. Thornton (Gaskell 150).
The Uncaring Rich
The problem with capitalism is that it presents the concept of a dream that supposedly anyone can achieve but, in more ways than one, this dream is often skewed in favor of those that are already successful, to begin with. The primary idea is that no one “can abuse the masters” (356). The capitalist system that the workers and masters operate under is one that supposedly exchanges hard work for its equivalent reward. However, in reality, capitalism often operates under a skewed system where its promise of a financial reward is “lacking” to say the least. Those who reap the most benefits are on the top, despite not working as much, while those who work the hardest get paid the least.
In this supposedly “equal and fair” system, we get the masters who are given just a bit more power than the workers they manage, yet this tiny increase that puts them “above their fellow man” goes to their heads and makes them more likely to consider the employees as being lower than them, not as important as them, and whose suffering should not matter to them. In a way, this portrayal between the two groups helps to expose the divide between the wealthy and poor. If the masters in the company were changed that much by just a little bit more power, what would be the attitudes towards workers of the company owners or the shareholders of the enterprise?
Would they truly want to concern themselves with the plight of the workers given that it is unlikely to truly affect them on a fundamental level? The answer is “no,” of course, and this highlights what is wrong with the system. In fact, the romance angle between the two main characters, when viewed from the perspective of the workers would not make a shred of sense considering the sheer amount of suffering they are going through. Their thought process would most likely consist of the following: “we are underpaid and overworked, and you are apparently trying to emulate a story from Jane Austin?!” This disconnect between the two instances was likely an intentional portrayal by the author to show just how different the perspectives of two different classes have over events that are occurring at the same time.
Overall, the implications of this story in present society are actually quite interesting since it holds a certain degree of relevancy. One assumption that can be developed from the events that occurred in the story is that the “system” as we know it is still highly flawed, makes false promises, and is likely to continue to make people miserable well into the future. While capitalism does have many advantages, it has brought with it the systematic repression of the working class in favor of the continued rise of the wealthy. The fact is, there is a lack of caring attitude due to the level of disassociation between the higher and lower classes which is causing people to be miserable since the rich are the thinking of it as business as usual while the poor suffer for it with their lives.
Gaskell, Elizabeth. North and South. Chapman & Hall, 1855.