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Unit 18 Literary Criticism Level 6 Unit 4

Research Proposal

Background of the study

The poem “The Song of the Shirt” was written by Thomas Hood in 1843, in honour of Mrs. Biddell, a widower and seamstress, living in wretched conditions. She was involved in sewing shirts and trousers with the help of material being given by her employer. She was forced to deposit in order to get those clothes. In order to fulfil the desperate requirement of feeding child, she mortgaged her clothes. It left her in debt which she could not pay. Inability of repayment made her to forcefully go in a workhouse and her ultimate fate is left unknown. Mrs. Biddell’s story acted as a catalyst for those who were against wretched conditions of working poor of England. These are the people who are forced to spend seven days a week, labouring in inhumane conditions. It has become difficult to survive and having no prospects of relief (Dylan, 2012).

The poem was first published anonymously in Christmas edition of a British weekly magazine, Punch. The poem not only became famous due to the condition of Mrs. Biddell, but because of overall poor conditions of workers in England, in general. Though, Thomas Hood, was not famous for opting up any type of sociological topic, his poem “The Song of the Shirt” was able to gain popularity. It resulted in push of stricter labour laws in the country so as to avoid episode of forceful and bonded labour (Thomas Hood's poem about working conditions, 'The Song of the Shirt'. 2015).

The central theme of this poem is to discuss the condition of a widow and her situation of misery. Her life of drudgery and a tale of sweated labour has been discussed by Thomas Hood in a well-defined manner (Buchanan, 2013). The state of poverty and pitiful situation has generated the requirement of articulating concerns about a lot of working women. Moreover, oppression faced by them due to cultural and social condition of women has been clearly stated hardships of life with repetition of words, “Work, work, work”, in the poem.

Rhythmic couplet of the poem also has a strong emphasis on overworked lady with poor physical appearance. Despite of indulging so much in work, she is not being able to earn adequate wages that can help in feeding her child. Inhumane and mechanical stress faced by that women has primary focus on suppression, due to culture of inequality and ineffective economic condition that has been shown in the poem in context to the woman (TheSong of the Shirt Satireor Serious?, 2016).

Aim of the research

The aim of present research is “To understand the relationship of Thomas Hood’s poem ‘Song of the shirt’ with culture and feminism”.

Objectives of the research

Based on the above aim, following objectives can be framed:

  • To analyse the central theme of Thomas Hood’s poem “Song of the shirt”
  • To assess the relationship of Thomas Hood’s poem with culture
  • To explore the relationship of Thomas Hood’s poem with feminism
  • To understand application of Marxist theory on the poem “Song of the shirt”

Rationale of study

It is important to have adequate relevance to a research topic that has been chosen by the researcher. It helps in understanding requirement of enhancing knowledge base regarding subject matter. The present research will aid in developing adequate understanding with respect to conditions of workers in England. Moreover, importance of initiating equal rights to women without discriminating on the basis of sex is yet another factor that will clearly be described in the present research report. Hence, it can be stated that present investigation holds a great deal of importance in understanding the relationship of Thomas Hood’s poem ‘Song of the shirt’ with culture and feminism.

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Critical Approach

Theme 1: Relationship of Thomas Hood’s poem with culture

According to Cohan and Hark, (2012) the poem reflects on unjust treatment that is given to labourers which is given by ungenerous employers. The piece has been developed to focus upon overburdened women who have to sew men’s shirt and pants so as to earn livelihood. Being is widow, she also has to take care of her child along with working, which makes it even more difficult for her. Her dull and pale appearance has also been described by Thomas Hood with the help of perfect choice of words. The poem has been able to put strong words for ineffective culture that has been prevailing in the country for labourer who are forced to work for 7 days in a week. However, in contrast to this, as per the views of Geist, Geist and Kuznik, (2012) oppression faced by labourers due to sweated trades discuses a tale of misery of culture being followed in the country. The same edition of poem was then used to bring adequate changes in labour laws so as to effectively alter condition of labourers who are treated as slave.

Theme 2: Relationship of Thomas Hood’s poem with feminism

As per the views of Hughes, (2014) a strong relationship in between Thomas Hood’s poem and feminism can be ascertained through various phrases that have been used by the poet in order to define the condition of Mrs. Biddell. Since, the central theme of poem is related to misery of a women who has to work day and night to earn living and make her child feed. The text explains utter exhaustion, a widow faces due to state of poverty. Even though, she works so much, she is not able to earn suitable money. It reflects discrimination in wages that she must have been facing at her workplace. The grief can be understood through constant repetition of words, “Stich! Stich! Stich!”. It reflects that she is not able to earn adequately in comparison to the work actually done by her. However, in contrast to this, as per the views of Liu and et.al. (2012) issues in free trade and economy highlights the contradiction in labour market. Disruptive presentation of woman in poem indicates that women used to be treated as oppressed class in the society which generated requirement of adequate strategies that can lead to upliftment. Women’s work in 19th century in London raises questions regarding their society.

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Theme 3: Applicability of Marxist theory on the poem “Song of the Shirt”

According to Mariani, (2016) the poem “The song of the shirt” has been imaginatively and intelligently reflected female ideology and their suffering due to existence of inequality in the environment od England. It can be stated that there is a direct relationship between Marxist theory and story and condition tat has been shared by the poet in the poem “The Song of the Shirt”. Marxist theory reflects upon the concept of struggle of various classes. It plays an important role in understanding the development of the country. The theory tends to initiate adoption of communism by replacing capitalism. It will help in ensuring that all the people belonging to the society are able to receive sources as per their requirement and abilities. However, in contrast to this, as per the views of Dunn, (2015) Karl Marx’s theory can effectively be applied on poem as in such cases, differentiation and inequality will be less existing in the society and women will not be discriminated based on their gender. The applicability of Marxist theory is quite positive on the poem, “The Song of the Shirt” as having communism approach England can help in bringing revolution n condition and state of labour class individuals existing in the country.

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  • Buchanan, J. (2013). Translating Thailand's Protests: An Analysis of Red Shirt Rhetoric.Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies,6(1), 60.
  • Cohan, S., & Hark, I. R. (2012). 'FEMINIZING'THE SONG-AND-DANCE MAN: Fred Astaire and the spectacle of masculinity in the Hollywood musical. InScreening the Male(pp. 56-79). Routledge.
  • Dunn, G. (2015).The fellowship of song: Popular singing traditions in East Suffolk. Routledge.
  • Dylan, B. (2012).Forever Young: with audio recording. Simon and Schuster.
  • Geist, K., Geist, E. A., & Kuznik, K. (2012). The patterns of music: Young children learning mathematics through beat, rhythm, and melody.YC Young Children,67(1), 74.
  • Hughes, L. K. (2014). SIDEWAYS!: Navigating the Material (ity) of Print Culture.Victorian Periodicals Review,47(1), 1-30.
  • Liu, S. & et.al. (2012, October). Hi, magic closet, tell me what to wear!. InProceedings of the 20th ACM international conference on Multimedia(pp. 619-628). ACM.
  • Mariani, P. (2016).Dream Song: The Life of John Berryman. Trinity University Press.
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