London: Past vs. Present

24 Nov

London is a city associated with its past.  After founded in 43 AD, London has been the center of various English transitional phases including an era of imperialism and conquering and an era of expansion and industrialization. However, London has done its fair share to be one of the modernized cities of the present. However, when the culture and tradition of the past collide with modern London, tension and conflicting emotions arise. This power struggle between the past and present in London is presented in various forms of media including the novel, Saturday by Ian McEwan.

If you have ever been to the city of London, you will notice that the city has chosen to stay with its architectural style of the past.  Much of the buildings still in use in London were created in London’s time of expansion, which was roughly 1840 to 1925. This also includes the Victorian Era. Much of this time was based more on the monarchial ruling of a single leader, Queen Victoria. The class struggle was evident, as people were much more defined to the class in which they were born. In the novel Saturday, the present London setting is presented. Perowne the main character is constantly transitioning from place to place with the use of his car.  During these scenes, a narration is given on what is occurring in the car rather than the city of London around the car. As readers are so used to past writers mainly focusing on the aesthetic qualities of London in the setting, newer books focusing away from the culture and history of the London setting are interpreted as seclusion and isolation. When Perowne drives in his car, readers immediately interpret the car as a bubble of division from the real world. However, modernization itself, in any setting, can be concluded as a separation from history and culture. However, as London is a city founded on very strong history and tradition, readers find the dichotomy between culture and modernization very evident.

While the car seems to physically divide Perowne from the city of London, the car also destroys another quality of past London: the class system.  In Saturday, Perowne and Baxter are only identified as two different class levels through characterization. The narration tends to separate Perowne as a doctor while Baxter as a shadier individual. In addition, there is direct characterization through the way the two characters talk. In the past, people of London could be identified to be part of a specific class in their manner of speaking English. The upper class would speak English much more conventionally and proper compared through the lower class people, who tend to place more focus on slang. In Saturday, there is not much difference in the English between the two contrasting characters. Essentially, the proper English of London and slang English have essentially merged. The only possible speculation that could be made is that Baxter uses aggression and physical confrontation rather than knowledge, which is used by Perowne, to solve is conflict. Yet, what’s not to say that a upper class individual would not get violent? Essentially, modern London has eliminated a distinct division between classes. Both Perowne and Baxter have cars, establishing them on equal ground. Both are confined within their car. When the cars hit, both are evoked out of the car into confrontation.

Essentially, it is the reader who does not except a modern London setting. Readers are so used to the orthodox conventions of London of the past, that simply driving in a car is casted of as seclusion and isolation from culture. This is also evident in the Premier League, founded at the start of the Industrial Revolution. With newly founded team Manchester City buying their way up the Premier League ladder, old and tradition founded Liverpool have been slowly falling down. This has arisen a lot of tension within soccer fan support in England. With much of London established in the past, anything of the modern era triumphing over tradition is threating.

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One Response to “London: Past vs. Present”

  1. winterfroststrom November 26, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    I think that’s the nature of the world. The past is the past. And over time, a new past builds on top of it, covering it up entirely. One of the innovations of 20th century writing was the character focused story. In the past, the setting was important. Think of Oliver Twist. However, modern books can be distinguished not only by their rather clear-cut language but also by their focus on individual people.

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