The Half Brothers is a short story written by Elizabeth Gaskell, which was first published in November 1958. The story is a very typical example of her strong moral sense and interest in the difficulties faced by ordinary people and how they have to find the strength to live their daily life. It is my intention, in the following essay to explore how Elisabeth Gaskell has represented the suffering of ordinary people during the Victorian period. The title clearly explains what the story is concerned with.
One of the first things we find out is that the narrator’s mother had not had a very pleasant life, or at least not a happy start of her life. She was twice married and wasn’t happy with her first husband. Right at the start of the story, Elizabeth Gaskell expresses her concern for poverty and suffering. The first two events in the story are the death of her first husband and the death of her little baby. The baby girl’s death was the only thing the mother had and her death had such a great impact of sorrow and pain that she couldn’t even cry or drop a tear but felt as if her heart had been torn apart.
Her life just seemed to have stopped for a while. Death is never a good thing in any case and is always painful, especially when someone close to your heart dies. You feel as if a part of you has been taken away from you and that’s exactly what happened to the mother that lost her dear child. The narrator’s mother had no one else left except her older sister Fanny who always tried to give her hopes of living, especially after the death of her husband and child. She thought life was worthless. But all this ended when Gregory was born. Gregory now became the reason of her life.
The narrator even says, “She seemed after to think of nothing but her little baby”. However the problems she already had concerning financial difficulties, continued. The narrator’s mother used to do fine sewing, which earned their daily bread and only source of money but this only lasted until the narrator’s mother lost part of her eyesight. The Victorian period wasn’t the perfect time to live in. Life wasn’t as easy as it is nowadays especially for a single parent being a woman. You had to really work hard and struggle to earn a days meal. So life was tough then. How would they even live?
They didn’t even have enough to eat anymore except for little Gregory who did not have the best quality food, but did have enough. Just as it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, William Preston shows up as the saviour. “He was reckoned as a bachelor”, he was long past forty and of course, he was one of the richest farmers around. Preston promises to give Gregory the best possible in life. As the narrator says, “promised to take good charge of the boy”. At this point we discover the name of the narrator’s mother, Hellen. In the same sentence we find a strong evidence of the language used by the author in this short story.
She says, “four-and-twentieth” instead of simply twenty-fourth. Hellen decides to marry William Preston, clearly not for love, but in my opinion, for a matter of survival, as said in one of the quotes in the story, “as William Preston’s wife, she would never need to do anything”. During the Victorian period, people saw women without man as weak because they had no status without a man to support the household and give them that name or in their words, status. Hellen actually gave her self up for the good sake of her baby, so he could have a decent future. But after promising to marry Preston, she seemed unhappier.
This quote shows her feelings, “never smiled after the day when she promised William Preston to be his wife”. She also would not be able to take care of Gregory and herself for much longer, because of her financial and physical problems. The first paragraph son ends at this point, we see a bit of moral sense in the story. The author makes us wonder if Hellen was right, and if she was acting fairly, marrying William Preston. Was it right to marry a man without loving him? I wonder if she was right in marrying William Preston to give her son a better future. She did not love William Preston, she loved her son, Gregory.
Unfortunately, Preston noticed that. He became jealous and started disliking Gregory. It was quiet nasty in my point of view. “He wanted her to love him more”. “He wanted her child to love her less”. Preston put so much pressure on Hellen that she had a baby with him. He was very “proud that a son was born to him”, but his wife was in terrible state because of what he had done. In another act of nastiness, Preston starts “picking on” Gregory and ever blames him for his mother’s state. Soon afterwards, Hellen dies and curiously, her last wish is to have Gregory sitting on her bed, beside his new half-brother.
After Hellen’s death, Preston needed something or someone to love, so he chose his son obviously. He took his son “as he had taken no human being before”. The narrator wasn’t just loved by his father, but everyone around else him. In the third and fourth paragraphs, Elizabeth Gaskell gives us a description of how the two stepbrothers grew up together. In the world of today, people are often not very happy due to the loss they had in their lives because of one of their parents dying or their parents getting divorced which results in having a half brother or sister. In the third and fourth paragraphs.
Elizabeth Gaskell gives us a description of how the two step- brothers grew up together. They were two very different people. We see that the narrator was the “darling”, “the tenderly beloved”, “the young master”. On the other side, Gregory was “lumpish and loutish”, “awkward and ungainly”. Still in the fourth paragraph we find a very intriguing sentence, “I am ashamed my heart is sore my poor orphan stepbrother”. The narrator feels guilty. We have to keep in mind that he is telling the story in the past tense. This means he has already seen or lived the whole story.
In that sentence, Elizabeth Gaskell gives us a clue that the story won’t have a happy ending that is why the narrator regrets something. The narrator is saying something like, “Why didn’t I treat Gregory better? ” here we know that at the time the story is being told, Gregory isn’t present; he’s gone nut we still don’t know what happened. As the story continues, the author gives us a bit more information on the two stepbrothers. We find out that although he was, “stupid, dull, sullen, sulky, gloomy, scolded and flogged by people”, he had some useful characteristics.
He was good natured, patient and a good shepherd. “Old Adam” was the only person to value Gregory. He was amazed at Gregory’s knowledge of the hills around the farm, which probably required a lot of skill. On the other side, although the narrator expressed guilt in the previous paragraph, he is snobbish. We notice that when he says, “I suppose I was a clever lad”. One day when he was sixteen while Gregory was three years older, his father sent him somewhere to deliver a message. The hills were a much shorter way, however much more dangerous.
His father strongly advised him not to return by the hills, but as he finished his task an hour earlier, he thought it would all be alright and he “took the decision of the way by which he would return into his own hands”. He thought he knew everything. He was lead by reason and logical thought. Suddenly, the story changes. Up to this point, it was simply a story being told. Now it is actually happening. The author now describes the setting of describing the character’s feeling, in the trouble the “clever guy” got himself into. He got lost.
He was in a noiseless, pitiless, dark and cold place. The winter has no mercy. All this characteristics in my point of view suggest death and that is what the narrator is trying to escape from. Once again, the narrator is very snobbish and selfish when he says, “my poor father would grieve for me”. He is only thinking of himself and how important he thinks he is. Action, tension and suspense increase dramatically at this point. The narrator at this point has lost every sense of direction and the only thing possible to even try to save him is to shout if that would do any good.
He is in a nervous and panicking state shouting, “terrible, wild shouts for bare life if they were”. After one last shout, Lassie shows up. The narrator hears her barking but he wonders for a minute or two if he really heard it or if he’d just started to “loose it”. During this short time, he goes through his memories of Lassie, “An ugly enough brute, with white, ill looking face” dog, which was always kicked by his father. Again Lassie barks. He shouts back, “Lassie! Lassie! And in despair he says, “For God’s sake Lassie! Just a second and something outstanding happens; “The great white faced Lassie looking, however, up in my face with her intelligent comprehensive eyes”. As the story goes on, the narrator only shows to be more and more selfish. He is acting similarly to his father. Just seconds before, he referred to Lassie as a stupid and ugly dog, and now he says she is looking at him with her intelligent eyes? Then Gregory shows up. He came to rescue his young brother. He tries to find a way home but not even his shepherd skill could beat up the heavy snow. It was extremely cold and their lives were at risk.
If they slept, they would probably not wake up again. The narrator was about to give up his life but Gregory who was much better prepared to the cold weather, gave him his coat. Gregory could die because of that, but he didn’t care. He was there to save his younger brother, and that’s what he was going to do, whatever it took even if it meant giving up his own life. Well what difference would that make? He was a nobody. But his stepbrother was a different case. He was important. Maybe Gregory was doing that not just for his stepbrother, who he loved, but for his mother, Preston and for all those who loved the narrator.
He then sent Lassie home with the narrator’s “pocket hand-kerchief” tied round her neck. They lied down beside each other and tried to keep warm. Gregory remembered the time when his mother was dying. He also thought they were going to die. He said, “we shall be soon with her”. In an instant, in the narrator’s words, he was at home and there were many people around him, taking care of him. The narrator said, “I was thankful my first word was ‘Gregory’? ” He was thankful that at last, he had been able to care about his brother. It was very good, but it was just too late. Gregory was dead.
Soon we find out that Gregory had actually given him his “plaid” and his “shepherd coat”. Gregory was found dead, cold wearing nothing but his shirtsleeves and smiling. Gregory gave his life for his stepbrother. His actions throughout the story reflect the author’s religious beliefs. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Unitarian religion was a direct practical faith, which emphasised the importance of tolerance and reason. There’s no doubt Gregory is her model of tolerance in this story. He suffered all along and never said a word. Gregory also reminds us of a very well known religious figure, Jesus.
He gave his life to save his stepbrother just like Jesus sacrificed himself to save humanity. Only after Gregory’s death, people noticed what a lovely boy he was. I guess that’s why they say, “You don’t realise what you have until you loose it”. The narrator should have appreciated Gregory in the best way he could but it’s too late to admit one’s mistakes. Gregory was totally selfless. However it was too late, he was already dead. All the people could do was lament. But some of them felt so guilty, that they thought they would be better forgetting Gregory. The narrator was one of these people.
At least William Preston learnt his lesson. But again it was too late. It was useless counting the things he should have done for Gregory and the things he shouldn’t have done. All he could do was to plead God’s forgiveness and let Gregory rest in peace. After his death, they found a paper of directions in which he desired that, “he might lie at the foot of the grave, in which, by his desire, poor Gregory had been laid with our mother” (Gregory’s mother). At last Gregory would be forever in peace with his mother the only person who ever really loved him. Poor Gregory.