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Samuel Richardsons Pamela A Tool Of Resistance English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2026 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This essay is an investigation into the role of literature in challenging and promoting alternatives to the dominant ideologies. My hypothesis is that Pamela challenged the dominant social ideologies surrounding women and class values in the 18th century. My case study is the novel Pamela written by Samuel Richardson. My research objectives are:

Research the social, political and literary context

Research Pamela as a figure of rebellion

Analyze the novel Pamela to examine how the novel challenges the dominant ideologies and the enormity of the threat posed by Pamela to the status quo

Literature Review and Case Study

My case study is the novel Pamela written by Samuel Richardson and published in 1740. The novel is a series of letters written by a young girl named Pamela in which she articulates her thoughts and impressions. The novel depicts her moral and physical struggle against the advances of her dead mistresses’ son.

On publication Pamela became an “immediate sensation.” (Regis, 2003: 63) During the 18th century the social and moral structures were shifting and the power of the middle classes slowly growing. Strict notions of Christianity were being questioned as people began to turn from religion and towards secularization. Gulfs between classes were large and made wider by abuse of position and wealth.

George Saintsbury describes the environment in which Pamela was written as having characteristics of “rough manners, fanatic religion, disgraceful public establishments, cheap liquor and press ganging.” (Saintsbury, 1959: viii) Social and political characteristics include calls for “universal suffrage and universal education”. (Harris, 1987:15)

The novel reads like a study of power and how it can be abused or used in a responsible and sensible manner for the betterment of mankind. Pamela is the embodiment of sensibility citing her ability to write accounts and her expertise with her needle.

She is an unorthodox figure of rebellion; young, beautiful, soft-spoken, humble and honest. She is portrayed as a “political prisoner who is beaten, frightened and silenced. Verbal subversion has been her only recourse.” (Harris, 1987: 22)

She describes the forward advances of Mr. B with deep innocence, pronouncing herself “ready to cry” and “curtsying and blushing.” (Richardson, 1985: 44) Her parents shed light on the severity of the situation by expressing an extreme wish to rather see her dead than without her virtue. (Richardson, 1985: 46)

Pamela is overtly mature for her 15 years as she begins to question society’s injustices with some bewilderment in her journal. She draws clear and true parallels that only serve to shock and enrage her master. “Well may I forget that I am your servant when you forget what belongs to a master.” (Richardson, 1985: 55)

Women belonged to fathers and then husbands and had little protection in law. “He assumes the right to define her. Mr. B has power over her simply by being a man.” (Harris, 1987: 17) For Pamela to question Mr. B’s right to define her she is standing for rights that had not been recognized yet. She reacts with alarm to Mr. B’s advances and even contemplates suicide.

She also questions his intentions with a form of purity that strips away his upper class titles and exposes him as the manipulative scoundrel he is. “Why should your honour be so angry, I should tell Mrs. Jervis, or anybody else, what passed, if you intended no harm?” (Richardson, 1985: 62)

Unknowingly, Pamela is heralding common people to acceptance both socially and artistically. Richardson is subtly increasing awareness of the prejudices surrounding women and uncovering the corruption and unfair privileges enjoyed by the upper class. By appealing to readers of middle and lower classes Richardson stirred emotions and expressed grievances. It is “the traders and artisans, who find in him their spokesman.” (Legoius et al, 1947: 844)

Pamela is a heroine with which readers could identify. She is human and admits her own flaws quite readily which would have greatly appealed to the audience of mainly women readers. Her innocent wonderings are met with startling and rude discoveries.

She muses on the injustices and prejudices of the world she is being forced to grow up in. “I tremble to think what a sad hazard a poor maiden stands against the temptations of this world, and a designing gentleman, who has so much power to oblige.” (Richardson, 1985: 52) For all her trembling and fear Pamela proves to possess emotional strength beyond her years.

As she is further tormented by Mr. B her letters begin to show a deepening emotional turmoil as she plaintively questions the situation. “Do you think I should ever have forgot my duty as a servant, if he had not forgot his as master?” (Richardson, 1985: 78)

The discerning factor, however, is her ability to question logically the legality and injustice of Mr. B’s actions. “I thought myself right to endeavour to make my escape from this forced and illegal restraint.” (Richardson, 1985: 266) She writes beseechingly, “For what can the abject poor do against the mighty rich, when they are determined to oppress?” (Richardson, 1985: 130)

Richardson cleverly shows the innocence of women targeted by wealthy men such as Mr. B. Statements made by Mr. B such as “She has all the arts of her sex; they were born with her” clearly show the slanderous approach used by men to justify their actions. (Richardson, 1985: 67)

His view of women as lesser beings are unveiled when he describes his misconduct as “innocent romping” (Richardson, 1985: 87) and describes the mistreated Pamela as a man’s toy or a decoration. Her refusal to yield her virginity increases her value as a woman and a human being. She possesses “the right to maintain her sense of self-worth.” (Beasley, 1996: 38)

The magnitude of the threat posed by Pamela is unveiled through Mrs. Jervis who observes, “I hope I should act as you do. But I know nobody else that would.” (Richardson, 1985:72) Lady Davers acknowledges that Pamela’s stance of virtue is rarely heard of.

Through these statements we can see exactly how the status quo can be changed; through each reader following the unglamorous yet moral example that Pamela has set. “The novel is revolutionary in it depths, not just on the surface, though there are overt statements which have far-reaching significance.” (Doody, 1985: 8)

Richardson challenges the political, social and economic status quo with Pamela’s speeches which both question and accuse. “The philosopher said true, when he looked upon the skull of a king, and that of a poor man, that he saw no difference between them.” (Richardson, 1985: 294)

Stubborn resolve against the easy route combined with prudence proved successful for Pamela as Mr. B admits that it was “her person made me her lover, but her mind made her my wife.” (Richardson, 1985: 493) Not all would take the opinion that it is better to live in abject poverty than to lose your integrity to a wealthy individual.

Throughout the triumph of marriage Pamela never loses her values or principles. Her integrity is worth far more to her than sparkling diamonds. Material items hold no importance and this can be attributed to her upbringing.

Regis, a key theorist in feminism in romance novels, describes Pamela as a feminist heroine. (2003: 69) By marrying Mr. B she settles for no less than equal social standing. Yet, “she is denied the absolute freedom that men assume.” (Regis, 2003: 71)

On the contrary, Beasley strongly believes Pamela promotes “traditional ideals of male authority.” (1996: 37) He recognizes her struggle for chastity but once she marries she bends to authority. I strongly contend this opinion in favour of Regis’s view.

After marriage her institutionalization into the social fabric is shaky yet it is her struggle to avoid disgrace, poverty and complete social ruin by clinging steadfastly to her virtue that is admirable and revolutionary. She is defenceless in a world governed by men yet her “resilient virtue is triumphant.” (Beasley, 1996: 38)

In addition, it is of great consequence that Mr. B admits the dysfunctional nature of the class society. Children of fortune are undisciplined from the time of birth and their recklessness continues into marriage when man and wife “join most heartily to plague one another”. (Richardson, 1985: 463)

The stage was now set for the dominance of female heroines. “The heroine, however disadvantaged, can implicitly defy the world of masculine authority around her by becoming the centre of the narrative, with masculine characters only figures in her story.” (Doody, 1985: 12)

The willingness of the English people to embrace and enjoy Pamela opened the floodgates for analysis and criticism. The superiority of men over women was questioned by dissident literature such as Richardson’s novels. His writings displayed “a compromise with the dominant influences of their time.” (Legoius et al, 1948:788)


Pamela was the best-selling phenomenon of its time. Richardson’s ability to combine sentiment with reality in fiction meant it was read by all; whether critic or admirer. Later writers were hugely influenced by Richardson’s work including Jane Austen who copied the epistolary method in Sense and Sensibility.

Pamela is the first crack in the rigidity of social position. Without openly demanding change she makes her individual influence felt. She is a symbol of revolution and the shifting in perceptions seen throughout the 18th century. Her character traits of virtue, honesty, obedience, tolerance and patience swiftly dominated sentimental literature.

Pamela’s parents regard her virginity as a jewel of limitless value. It is a jewel with which she may barter her way into the upper classes yet her innocence and sensibility allows her to accomplish this without being manipulative and shrewd.

John Locke’s masterpiece ‘The Second Treatise of Civil Government’ states that an individual’s natural right to one’s property is founded on a natural right to one’s own person. Pamela is doing nothing but exerting that right which is the basis of all human rights.

Pamela represents a low grumble of dissidence manifested not through violence or force but through persistent, emotional and relatively peaceful refusal of abuse and degradation from the upper classes. She poses a potent threat to the status quo as she internally changes perceptions and values. She defeats an entire class system by becoming a wife of high rank in a society in which she was persistently victimized.

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The findings from my literature review support the hypothesis that the novel challenges the dominant social ideologies. The literature agrees the novel was revolutionary and resistant to hegemonic ideals throughout the bulk of the novel. However, Pamela’s marriage to Mr. B causes controversy and a differing of opinions among authors. Some argue she is bowing to patriarchal authority through marriage, others argue she has achieved basic rights for women by achieving equal standing with a man of higher class.

The results of my literature review on the novel correspond and confirm with the themes, issues, ideas and language used in my study of the novel. The main message and conclusion within the novel is that literature can play a massive role in resisting hegemony and introducing previously unheard of alternatives to dominant elitist values.


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