London’s Consumer Culture in Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend” Essay

March 3, 2022 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 6th, 2021

London’s Consumer Culture

The UK has experienced various riots in its history. In the 1970s through 1980s, when the GDP was much less compared to now, riots were based on complaints such as education opportunities, the need for increased policing, and even concerns about the availability of job opportunities. However, the 2011 riots in the UK took a different approach. They were based on wants such as excitement, new TV channels, or even new mobile phones.

While it is not bad to desire new things, the riots were an indication of obsessions with wants dominating London’s consumer culture. This situation culminates in relentless efforts to satisfy or seal a hole in one’s lifestyle. Surprisingly, this outcome can never happen. When one need is satisfied, a quest to gratify another one emerges. Nevertheless, this gratification characterizes London’s consumer culture. All the time, people want something that delivers a better experience or utility compared to what they currently own.

Technologically perceptive individuals and a service-oriented economy dominate the 20th-century urban centers in London. They have replaced the traditional agricultural production-based society in London. Assadourian is concerned about these changes claiming that although they may seem beneficial, they have irreversible problems that hinder environmental sustainability (5). He sees the failure of people to save the environment from collapsing as related to culture and not to their stupidity, destructiveness, or ignorance (Assadourian 3).

He gives colorful illustrations of people of consumer culture potentially deprived of their habitual lifestyle: According to him, it is as if they were asked to stop breathing forever. This analogy explains the difficulties encountered in telling people to curb their consumerism in a bid to foster environmental protection and conservation (Assadourian 3).

In the light of Assadourian’s argument concerning the innateness of consumerism in human beings, culture defines norms and values in a society, which are hard to smash when they become normalized (4). Owning big houses, several cars, air conditioners, and other equipment constitutes the norm for London’s consumerism culture. Arguably, this tendency is not likely to grow down since it is now rapidly becoming a global culture. Assadourian criticizes this emerging culture claiming that although it appears natural to many people, it is not only difficult to sustain but also not an accurate manifestation of the nature of people (3).

He maintains that the escalated consumption pattern does not increase the wellbeing of people (Assadourian 9). When a new culture emerges, the existing cultural values are eroded. Assadourian criticizes consumerism claiming that it has created the belief that the possession of more wealth coupled with material capability defines good life (10). However, this perception defines London’s consumerism.

London consumer markets are dominated by the influx of manufactured goods, including food products. For instance, amid the emerging criticism on fast food consumer culture in terms of how such foods are associated with health challenges such as obesity and hypertension, the culture constitutes a modern London’s mainstream (Water 62). This culture is sustained through immense waste release into the environment. The waste mainly comes from leftovers, food wrappings, and green gas emissions when transporting foods to manufacturing centers and their subsequent distribution. Fast-food stores equally generate wastes.

Hence, London’s consumerism, which is becoming a global culture, is not sustainable. Arguably, the problem of London’s current consumerism rests on the definition of a good life. One of the major issues that need harmonization is the effort to minimize excess consumption.

Depiction of London’s Consumer Culture in Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend is a novel that was authored by Charles Dickens from 1864 to 1865. The novel comprises sophisticated social and psychological analysis of various life issues (Hawes 56). A major theme in the novel is money, including what it can purchase. Throughout the novel, money is central to ensuring good life by increasing an individual’s consumerism. For example, in the opening chapters of the novel, the body of John Harmon is discovered in the Thames (Dickens 35).

The young man has just come back to London for his inheritance. Sadly, all the money goes to Boffins, a working-class man. The importance of money is felt throughout the society of London (Hawes 31). To this extent, the working class is depicted as obsessed with consumerism. For instance, while the money remained safe in the hands of John Harmon’s father when it changed hand, Boffins spent it in the way that everyone felt the presence of consumerism in the society.

Characters obsessed with consumerism are negatively depicted in the novel. They are always too tempted to let go of an opportunity for extracting money in any possible way. Predation is commonplace in London. Indeed, various chapters refer to ‘birds of prey’. Silas and Rogue among other characters are always tempted to extract money without honor. The opening scenes of the novel depict Hexam bending over a boat similar to a vulture searching dead bodies.

He robs these bodies before he hands them over to concerned authorities. This situation depicts consumerism in London as ridiculous to the extent that characters can look for all ways of acquiring money, including from the dead, to fund their culture. Where high consumerism among the working class is not explicitly depicted, the character must be faking it to acquire wealth. For example, Boffins pretends to be a miser to instruct “Bella Wilfer on the perils of materialism and greed” (Glavin 213). The motive is to acquire money to support the high consumerism that characterizes London’s working class.

Harmon Fortune is situated on dust heaps and the river. This implies a repetitive motif of death followed by decay. Nevertheless, the heaps and the river are prime sources of livelihood and wealth, therefore are necessary to support consumerism. Glavin summarizes this relationship asserting, “If the river is the liquid sewer of London, the dust-heap is the dry one, and the two together provide food and drink for the majority of the characters in the novel” (215). Indeed, the extent to which the people of London can go to acquire money to fund their consumerism is enormous. Throughout the novel, money serves as the main character. It is necessary for a ‘good life.’

Works Cited

Assadourian, Erik. State of the World: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability, W.W Norton: The World Watch Institute, 2010. Print.

Dickens, Charles. Our Mutual Friend, Irvine, CA: Xist Publishing, 2016. Print.

Glavin, John. Dickens on Screen, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Hawes, Donald. Who’s Who in Dickens, London: Routledge, 1998. Print.

Water, Timothy. “Critical moments for obesity: The call for nurses and communities to assess and intervene.” Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession 40.1 (2011): 60-70. Print.

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