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Does Contemporary Literature Have a Distinctive Ethics?

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This novel revolves around the story based on the main character from his vision and how he managed to turn his life around in his favour. The story begins with young Thomas Cromwell who is brutally beaten by his father which makes him want to flee from home to Europe in order to build the life of his own. Then the story shifts towards the older Cromwell who is completely changed. He has all the skills, knows so many languages and has high ethics. People admire him for his personality that attracts the people with higher position towards him because everybody saw him as a good man who can be trusted which worked in his favour. The question which the readers had in their mind after reading this novel was- How can life be so favourable to someone like Cromwell and is He even as perfect as he seemed to be?

If we talk about ethics related to this text, Cromwell being the voice in the novel is shown as a man who had strong ethics and is a good man of wisdom and knowledge. But, if we view the whole novel considering all characters equally, Cromwell isn’t as perfect as he seemed to be. No doubt that his morals are strongly viewed by the readers and the characters in the novel. But he somehow manages to reach to a higher position only by doing the dirty works of others like cardinal and the king. He could have done everything differently but his ethics and actions clashes which doesn’t really reveal him to be a good man. We can strongly argue this point by focusing on the text in more detail.

According to Hamalainen.N (2019) In Mantel’s novel, Thomas Cromwell, the protagonist leaves a strong impression of love and loyalty in the minds of the readers. He also displays high standards which are revealed through his excellent skills. As Mantel portrayed Cromwell to be a hardworking man who was well appreciated by his family and servants. He was always working with some business like first for the wool trade then for cardinal and last for the king. Considering all these facts, he can be viewed as far ahead of his time. If we look into more detail about the issues of his personal life, they were mainly the death of his wife and two young daughters. The only child who was alive after the death of the rest of his family was his son Gregory who grew up completely different than his own father. Cromwell is also known for his loyalty as his main focus was towards helping his friends who were locked up in the tower of London. His relationship with cardinal Wolsey was like relationship of a father and a son. He was also portrayed as a logical and practical character that also displays his intelligent skills. He does not have any interest to develop his relations with people like Thomas More, who brutally abused his people. Overall, Cromwell is an observant and an empathetic character towards the people he knows and cares about regard less of their social position. Readers find it very interesting to picture the whole novel through the eyes of the protagonist.

According to Hamalainen.N (2019) Leaving these facts aside, the dramatization of this entire piece of novel does not lie in the moral principles of the main character but, revolves around two basic themes of moral corruption and vengeance. The morally demanding aspect of the novel’s creation clearly focuses of how Mantel manages to display Cromwell with high ethics and being a good person while getting dragged by the people who were fully corrupt and let him do their dirty work. We can explain these themes through the emphasis on the primary text by focusing on the theme Vengeance. Vengeance is a result of Cromwell’s love for the cardinal. His love for his master displays that in the end he didn’t fail him. This does not make a lot of sense if we talk about it in modern terms but, in the world of this novel, it clearly does. If we focus on his ambition, considering the context of the novel, his ambition lacks respect towards his religion. As Cromwell, a character who was brutally beaten by his own father which led him to run away from his home to create a life of his own. He perhaps, was greedy to want more and his aim was too high which as a result, disrespects his own religion. But, in the eyes of the readers and according to the world of this novel, Cromwell is given the right to have this position next to king which he didn’t own by himself but as a consequence of everything that was going on. He could have decided to do it differently but he decided to serve the king in order to achieve a higher position. He therefore was like a puppet to the king.

“Cromwell had his reason of love and ambition which saved this character from the reader’s harsh judgement. But, all of this is hidden from the eyes of the reader as for the readers, he is a good person.” Hamalainen.N (2019)

According to Hamalainen.N (2019) this novel disturbs the typical sense of ethics because the central character itself is portrayed to be a character with higher moral instincts.

“Daily he ponders the mystery of his countrymen. He has seen killers, yes; but he has seen a hungry soldier give away a loaf to a woman, a woman who is nothing to him, and turn away with a shrug. It is better not to try people, not to force them to desperation. Make them prosper; out of superfluity, they will be generous. Full bellies breed gentle manners. The pinch of famine makes monsters” (Mantel, 2012, p. 41).

It doesn’t prove him to be perfect but he is definitely different from the rest of the characters. This novel requires a closer look to understand this complexity that this novel has to offer to the readers. If there could be any moral to this story, it would be that evil things can happen and can be done by those, that the society assume to be as good people as they show what people want to see i.e. good character. People mostly believe in what they see rather than observing on a deeper level to why were things happening the way they were. They believe what they see but they don’t realise the depth of what is on the surface. And the same way, Cromwell was far beyond than just intelligent to fool everybody around him with his knowledge, Skills and loyalty which everybody trusted without realising that those were Cromwell’s tools which led him to the top. There is no such thing as happened due to circumstances or a consequence which always had to work in his favour and nobody else’s in fact, it was all a plan.

“Focusing on the details of the novel, there are two basic ethics which the whole story line revolves around. First is Cromwell’s responsibility towards his family and second towards his masters who were the cardinal and the King. He plays it clever by focusing on what society values the most and starts acting towards it as a way of solving most of his problems practically.” Hamalainen.N (2019)

This character is clever and doesn’t have to work hard to get to where he wanted to be. Good planning and using his charm and good personality traits to gravitate the people who he would benefit from is not being a good person but is only working for his own interests if he could benefit from it. Comparing the beginning and the end of the novel it is unbelievable for a normal person to believe that how can luck works for someone in so many ways or maybe it’s not luck but a clever way to get what they want. This novel gives the readers an imagination and hope that maybe this is the way to the staircase that leads to success, but if we talk in real life sense, doing the dirty work of others may help you reach to the top in no time but it won’t be long lasting success for sure. A girl is a half-formed thing – Eimear McBride

If we discuss about ethics related to this text, there is a lot to say as the novel revolves around the life of a young girl whose life at home is very difficult as her brother was suffering with cancer and is more preferred by her mother than her because of what he has been through. As she turns thirteen, she is raped by her uncle which she stays quite about and thinks that maybe it was her own fault and stays silent about it. Further on in her life, her brother’s cancer returns and because her mother is only focused on her one child, the girl finds comfort in sleeping with different men in order to replace the feeling of loneliness. She after getting raped and by never getting any good support from anywhere, started to feel a sense of power in sleeping with men so she continued doing it in her school and her college. Eventually her brother dies and she kept on replacing her emotional pain with physical pain by getting beaten up by men as a way to cope up with her situation. She deliberately engaged in a sexual affair with her uncle again who raped her when she was thirteen. When she decided to accept that this is not the life that she wants to live anymore, it was too late. Her uncle was not ready to let her go and her mother’s unkind words and no support led her to committing suicide. This story of extreme depression lacks ethics as moral values were not delivered to the girl by any older person in her life. No father figure, no mother’s support and an uncle who rapes her. She never got the right guidance to help her out of this black hole.

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According to the society that we live in, it is not acceptable for a woman to be acting this way as people straight up pass judgements on her actions rather than observing what makes her react this way. Having a troubling past with one parent who is only focused on a sick child and leaving the other on her own is a biased parenting which had its effects on this girl who ended up ruining her life. People can easily read this novel and say that the girl definitely has a bad character who sleeps with men and has no concern towards her family as she could have done it differently by being present for her family when they needed her. But if we see this according to her point of view, she never got any support from her mother and her brother’s ill health was something she had no control over. Since she was little, she never got the grooming that she needed to be a woman which society expects her to be. It cannot be said that what she did was right as it was wrong to do something which was another toxic approach to deal with her problems. In fact, she never dealt with her problems at all and maybe this was an easy escape for her to not to feel any emotional pain that everybody caused her.

“Eimear McBride’s a girl is a half-formed thing launches with a “you” and an ‘I’ and the stop-start promise of a name. ‘I’ is a girl, not fully a person but a person-thing on the way to full formation. We follow her from infancy to childhood through adolescence and just beyond. We see her finally in early adulthood when even at the age of twenty her form is ambiguous, indistinct. ‘You’ is her brother. He is two years older and afflicted in early childhood with cancerous tumour in the brain. This is the ever-present shadow of their growing up together as they are by turns shielded and scolded by a religiously devout mother. Indeed, Catholicism is conjured as yet another cancerous presence of the novella; the movement of McBride’s text is between salvation and sin as she works to interrogate both. The father is dead, we discover, a girl is sexually assaulted in early adolescence and spends the remainder of her story in self destruction and in pain.” Mohan.A (2017)

If we focus about her uncle then yes, he had a bad character. Raping a thirteen-year girl is something that is extremely wrong on his part and shows lack of character and moral values. He has no concern towards what this little girl would go through after this traumatic experience. But he had no care for her whatsoever. He again started to have a sexual relationship with her once she is in college and is a terrifying character in the entire novel which could scare the readers and make them question what if that happens to someone they love. There is no argument towards this character as he lacks morality in his character and there is no good reason to act the way he does.

The main character is a complex character in this novel as in the beginning she is revealed to be as a victim of rape. She decides to stay quite about it and later starts sleeping with random men. This is confusing for the readers as it could have made her react in a different way and she put herself in this position later on when she is sexually abused so she is not entirely a victim. The approach to cope up with what she was emotionally going through was ethically wrong and readers or society in general would never accept that. There is always a choice to make and going through a depressing life in general made her act this way can be the point to argue for her actions.

On the other hand, her mother is another character to discuss as she also has a strong impact on her daughter acting the way she does, the right guidance and a moral knowledge is a part which has to be delivered to children by an early age. Her daughter to have no knowledge of what is right or wrong for her is something which her mother could have helped her with. Blaming not the person but the circumstances does not hold a strong point of argument as there is always a choice. The mother decided to focus on her sick child completely, leaving the other to find her own way maybe because she thought she is healthy enough to take care of herself.

Physical Health is as important as emotional health. Her mother saw her one child who was unwell and devoted her care and support for him while ignoring the other who needed her too. Both her children were suffering in one way or the other and her lack of support is one of the reasons why the main character had no control over her actions or her life. A mother plays a vital role in children’s lives and after hearing by her own mother than she dislikes her daughter in every way, it gives the main character a reason to not care at all.

There is a lot to say in terms of morality which characters lack which reveals to the readers that if morals never existed, it would ruin lives as that of the characters in the novel itself. Morals defines a person with a good character or a bad one according to their actions and ethical value to life and to others. Main character can get a lot of judgement through the readers as she was not acting how society wants her to act. People expect every person to live by the code of morality in order to be appreciated as a human being regardless of their circumstances. The main character lives through this burden but maybe feels as if there is no one who cares about her which led her to not care about herself and to make this care less move until she decides to commit suicide.

This entire piece of novel by Eimear Mcbride reveals the severity of lack in morality in anyone’s life. Main character’s actions can easily make people judge her and say that she has a bad character but that doesn’t prove her to be a bad person. People lack empathy which results them to judge who ever they want to. The difference between good and bad in terms of morality is made by people and for people but it cannot always define someone’s personality as a whole.

Both novels have distinctive ethics. In the novel Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel, the main character is portrayed as a person with good character and moral values who is better than the other characters in the novel but he acts as a devil in disguise who masters the skills and perfects his relations with people with power in order to get what he is after. After reading the novel readers can tell that even after being a person which high moral virtues, that doesn’t make anyone a good person. Him doing the dirty works of the people who he works for clearly shows his interests and choice which therefore tells a lot about him being a bad person with good ethical knowledge.

Whereas, In the novel, A girl is a half-formed thing, the main character lacks knowledge about morality and is a lot younger than Cromwell. This character lacks name and an identity and portrayed in a bad manner but readers can sympathise towards her situation and can say that even though she lacks ethical knowledge, she might be a good person as she is not trying to ruin other people’s lives but her own.

In both novels, characters are being a victim of the circumstances and sometimes it works in their favour like for Cromwell and sometimes it doesn’t as for the girl in the half-formed thing. One character is clever enough to get things to work in his way but the other lacks and due to harsh ongoing circumstances and lack of support takes her down to the dark road of misery and death. The similarity between characters is how Cromwell got brutally beaten up by his own father at a very young age but he fought through this traumatic experience and created a life for himself. The girl in the second text also got sexually abused at a very young age but rather than changing her lifestyle in a better way she decided to follow the path of darkness which led her to her own suicide. Both texts showed how the presence of ethics and lack of ethics have an impact on people’s lifestyle and it can make a person to look good in the eyes of people but it doesn’t prove them to be a good person.


  1. Hamalainen.N (2019) ‘Wolf Hall and Moral Personhood’ Ethics and Bioethics (in central Europe) Vol 9, Iss 3-4, Pp 197-207.
  2. Tellez, Abdel-Rahman.s, (2018) ‘The Embodied Subjectivity of a Half-Formed Narrator: Sexual Abuse, Language, (un)formation and Melancholic Girlhood in Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ Estudios Irlandeses – journal of Irish studies. Annual, 2018 Issue 13, p1, 13p.
  3. Mohan.A (2017) ‘Moral Education and Literature: on Cora Diamond and Eimear McBride’ Journal of Philosophy od Education. Vol.15, Feb 2017, Issue 1, p102-113.12p.

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Does Contemporary Literature Have a Distinctive Ethics? (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from
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