‘Typical characters under typical circumstances’: The Slum Fiction of Dorothy Hewett and Ruth Park
Keywords:Dorothy Hewett, Ruth Park, working class, socialist realism
In this article I compare the representation of working people in two novels, Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South (1948) and Dorothy Hewett’s Bobbin Up (1959), as well as the ensuing critical debate about realism in their depictions of slum life in Sydney. I show that while Hewett’s work is more class-conscious and agitational, Park’s novel comes alive in deeper intersectional ways through her awareness of the interwoven structures of gender, class and race. Although Hewett’s novel culminates in a strike by women mill workers, Park reveals more of the individual strategies of survival that form part of the working-class lives she portrays. Thus, using Friedrich Engels’ critical point about ‘typical characters under typical circumstances’, I argue that while both writers try to capture the fundamental experience of working-class people, this is more successfully done in Park’s novel, both in terms of its literary realism and implicit radical politics.
Copyright (c) 2023 Ronald Paul
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