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Social Classes In The Works Of Willy Russell And Carol Ann Duffy

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In Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers, the Johnstones are portrayed as a lower social class in comparison to the Lyons. Russell does this by expressing the importance of money, even just to get basic items such as milk. This is shown through Mrs. Johnstone being told “no money, no milk” even though she has seven children. As Mrs. Johnstone is a single parent in the patriarchal society, she has less money than many other families, leaving her unavailable to afford necessities for her and her children. This displays that lower social class people found it harder to make a living for themselves and their families. This is similar to Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Brothers, as the protagonist talks about how they had to share a bed with their four older brothers. This was common in the lower social class as they were unable to afford and buy beds for each person in a household due to lack of a disposable income. A bed per person may have even been seen as a luxury as it was out of their reach with just their household income and they can still live without it, albeit, it would feel cramped and uncomfortable; this could represent both the physical and emotional effect of not having enough money.

Similarly, in Duffy’s poem Room, the room is scarce, with near to no furniture and is all of poor quality. Once again, money is displayed as a key issue as the owner of the room only has a second-hand bed. Both Mrs. Johnstone and the protagonist in Brothers are alike the owner of the room and are all trying to stretch out their money as much as possible. As the room is also costing the owner £90 a week, there is a constant reminder looming over the owner that even the most basic of items such as a safe place to sleep; a home, cost money; money that is extremely difficult for the lower social class to earn, no matter how hard or how long they work due to only menial tasks, such as cleaning, are available for them to complete for the upper social class families that have the money but only give small amounts to them.

Furthermore, in Duffy’s Like Earning a Living, the reader can infer that the school is one for lower social class students. This is due to both the names and the language used throughout. Names such as “Darren. Paul. Kelly. Marie… Mike” are all common and are more relaxed songs, similar to Mickey from Blood Brothers. Higher social class children would have more sophisticated and formal names, such as Edward. However, Mickey then goes on to nickname and repeatedly call Edward “Eddie”, a more relaxed name that would be seemingly more common in the lower social class in comparison to the higher social classes. This is used to link Edward back to his biological family, the Johnstones, and their lower social class’ poorer ways of life.

In addition to this, the teacher is displaying how some succumb to the use of filler words such as “like” due to the act of imitation. This represents how the lower social class may not have much power, but they are still able to manipulate the upper social classes through something as simplistic as language. Russell shows this too through mickey teaching Edward more vulgar words such as profanities leading to Edward’s advanced and formal vocabulary being enhanced by coarse language.

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In addition to this, Russell presents the lower social class as superstitious. He has done this through Mrs. Johnstone’s early on interaction with Mrs. Lyons regarding her new shoes. When Mrs. Lyons places her new shoes on the table, Mrs. Johnstone exclaims in disagreement and demands that she “take them off”, however then goes on to deny that she is superstitious. After this interaction, later in the play, Mrs. Lyons goes on to become superstitious herself even though at the beginning she thought that Mrs. Johnstone was acting ridiculous in her superstitious actions. This is another example of how the lower social class are able to manipulate the upper social classes easily without much, if any power, similar to Like Earning a Living.

One main link between all social classes is maybe one that wouldn’t typically be thought of as it is Marilyn Monroe. She started off as a female amongst the lower social class however she did what was never expected and became a well-known name. she became the idol for many women, and this has been represented through Blood Brothers and Before You Were Mine. The protagonist in Duffy’s poem describes her mother as stylish with her “polka dot dress”, similar to Marilyn Monroe’s style. Monroe is continuously mentioned in Blood Brothers as she is the motif. She has managed to be the idol of nearly everyone, regardless of social class, and brings everyone together, bringing together groups of juxtaposing social classes; groups of people that wouldn’t usually interact. By becoming famous after being a woman from the lower social class, she has proven that you should never let anything hold you back from completing your dreams although this may also cause issues mentally for other women in this social class as they contemplate as to why they cannot accomplish the same as Monroe at such a young age.

Additionally, people with money or less children are seen to have more freedom than some. This is due to the lack of concern regarding money, entertainment, etcetera. Russell portrays this sense of freedom through Mrs Johnstone and her husband frequently “[going] dancing”, but then when Mr Johnstone met a new woman, who looked like Marilyn Monroe, after Mrs. Johnstone had seven children, her freedom is stripped away from her and she can no longer “[go] dancing”. In Duffy’s Before You Were Mine, the protagonist mentions her mother dancing. This entails that before children, women have more freedom and can relax which was more common in the lower social class. This is a result of single-parent families being much more common in this social class and so there is no other parent around to be responsible for the children and so the mothers will be expected to care for their children day and night with near to no breaks. This then leads to the lack of the chance to relax and feel a sense of freedom as well as fun.

When Blood Brothers was set, Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister of Britain as she was in this role from 1979 until 1990 and Blood Brothers was set in the 1980’s. Social class is a key theme in this play as Thatcher had increased levels of unemployment and made the division between social classes more evident than before and so she is a key reason that the working class had such a low household and disposable income. When James Callaghan was prime minister unemployment rates were at one million, however, in July 1986, the number of people to be unemployed hit over three million. This is because coal mines, factories, shipyards and steel mills were all closed down; whether this be done due to political vindictiveness or disastrous neo-liberal industrial policies. This mostly effected the working class as they were the main people who were expected to work menial jobs that contain hard work and long hours with not much pay. Due to this, Willy Russell has tried to emphasise the difference between the classes and how much more severe they became during the time in which Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister through the Lyons family and the Johnstone family and how the difference between the both of them is rather accentuated

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Social Classes In The Works Of Willy Russell And Carol Ann Duffy. (2021, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from
“Social Classes In The Works Of Willy Russell And Carol Ann Duffy.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2021,
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