When the novel was first published in 1896, much of the western world had heard something about the tarnished East End of the Victorian London. Swafford says that inundated by journalistic and fictive explorations of the East End, of the Victorian London was a site of perpetual violence, misery, crime and degradation (66). The novel sought to persuade its readers that savages were not limited to the darkest regions of the colonies but could be found just beyond the West End of Victorian London in the eastern sections of the metropolis (Swafford 66). Through a direct and ironic narrative style, Morrison’s “A Child of Jago” novel portrays the Victorian London (1837-1901) as a culture of crime, degeneration and deviancy through the details of filth, drunkenness and violence. This is what the author describes as the values, norms and realities of the Jago.
The plot of the novel is built mainly around the life and death of Dicky Perrott (a child of the Jago). Swafford says that Dicky grows up in the Old Jago, learns the depraved ways of the place, and has one chance to escape and become part of the respectable working class, through the influence and goodness of Father Strut (67). Instead, he is defeated by the ostensibly unavoidable corruption and influence of the neighborhood. Consequently, Dicky becomes a skilled thief and is killed out of revenge for petty crimes that happen several years earlier in one of the sporadic neighborhood riots (Swafford 67). The subject of the novel is the nature and culture of deviancy, crime, and the grotesque and their implicit threat to the Victorian London (Swafford 67).
Morrison and Miles says that Victorian London was characterized by its reeking filth and horror, its absolute lawlessness, frequent murders, untainted heathendom and had a high death rate (176). The story of the Jago is a terrible one, very modern in the manner of its telling, but dating back to Charles Dickens in matter, incident and character. Morrison and Miles say that the Child of the Jago represents the Victorian London as a force of literary presentation which convinces those who can appreciate it of impotence in action a conviction to which that sort is ever predisposed (176). Child of the Jago continued the tradition at its best, and exhibited the relentless modern method very plainly (Morrison and Miles 176).
The author of the book barely admits the joys of slum-life but it gives a fair idea of its pleasurable, savage, excitements and the lust of battle. Radford and Sandy says that Arthur Morrison’s “A Child of the Jago” novel set in the London slums of the 1890s, features panoramas of immorality and deprivation that could have been lifted straight out of the condition of the working class in England (202) . Morrison’s represents the Victorian London (1837-1901) in "A Child of the Jago” by rendering the East End as an atavistic enclave, recording with unflinching rigor how the high levels of juvenile mortality were largely due to deep seated social problems, such as the overcrowded, unhealthy condition of many homes. Morrison’s story represents the Victorian London through the effects of a poor diet, the severe lack of clean water, bad drainage and inadequate personal hygiene (Radford and Sandy 202).
According to Radford and Sandy, the have not’s of the Jago are so ubiquitously on the make that it is almost a misnomer to conceive of them as a working class (2002). The London Victorian is depicted by ontological shift in representation broadly consistent with that of his contemporaries. Machine smashing and mass rallies were no longer the devil’s work of idle hands, but robbery and murder (Radford and Sandy 203).
In the Victorian London, dramatic depictions of degradation and apathy dovetailed with allegations that the deaths of the young were welcome. In the novel “A Child of the Jago”, Arthur Morrison explored the attempts of a philanthropist cleric to salvage individuals and their families from succumbing to the moral inertia fostered by poverty (Strange 234). Strange says that Morrison charts the descent of the Perrott family from relative respectability to slum apathy as their financial fortunes decline (234). Their assimilation into a culture of moral squalor is signified by the death of the infant, Looey Perrott. The child is sick but her mother, Hannah allows native inertness to supersede a sense of responsibility and she leaves the infant alone whilst she goes drinking. Strange says that when the child dies in her absence, Morrison suggests that Hannah stares blankly looks bemused and feels only listless relief (234).
Morrison portrays such attitudes as inseparable from a particular social environment (Strange 234). The Victorian London (1837-1901), did not excuse slum dwellers disaffection and did not condemn the poverty that bred passivity and trapped the lower classes from ever leaving the slum. Brackett and Gaydosik indicated that Arthur Morrison’s “A child of the Jago” focused on the shameful physical emotional environment that provided a backdrop for the many children living in London’s slum during the Victorian London (69). Morrison not only highlighted the abject poverty of the district, but also the violence it spawned.
Morrison’s conception of degeneracy is indicative of long-standing stereotypes and prejudices concerning indigents and the slums found in the Victorian London. Swafford says that at the core of the slum question were a series of displacements and fears (67). In the novel, the Victorian London is represented by the pervasive sense that those in the throes of unspeakable hardship were there of their own accord and thus the seemingly degenerate state of the slums was a willful act of transgression against normalcy (Swafford 67). If the situations of slums were the result of a complex type of collective depravity, both biological and moral removed from middle class respectability then the degenerative nature of the spread beyond their otherwise isolated confinement.
Through a sweeping act of socio-cultural displacement, the Victorian London transformed material and social realities into acts of transgression, which produced widespread ignorance and fear. Swafford argues that “such fears and perceptions of the causes of poverty allowed a clean disavowal of affiliation between the standards and customs of the upper class and those people on the lower rungs of society” (67). In one way or the other, the problem was to be found with the victims and narratives such as Morrison’s A Child of the Jago sought to affirm this belief.
The Victorian London practiced varied acts of disassociation. The novel indicates that the slums and those of the East End in particular were simply alien zones, located within the very heart of the Victorian London (Swafford 67). Swafford says that one of the predominant ways of reinforcing this characterization and relationship was by representing the east end as something utterly removed from the social processes of civilization and respectability (68). In the Victorian London culture, cleanliness was part of the coding of respectability, health and virtue. Morrison thus draws upon this class based perception by describing the Jago as a sewer of sorts where the people are adverse to washing and bathing (Swafford 69).
In the entire novel, spatial, physical, and environmental descriptions are coded to mark social distinctions and judgments, whose ultimate function is to displace connections and relations between hierarchical social positions in the Victorian era (Swafford 70). In the Victorian era, the people of the Jago are grotesques not only because of their physicality but more importantly because of their social practices. The Victorian London classified the ability to make an honest living as a mark of respectability, of one’s connections to the dominant codes of society. As a result the inhabitants of the Jago in the novel were utterly removed from respectable living because the primary industry of the Jago was thievery. Poverty and unhealthy living largely classified the social welfare of the slum inhabitants in the Victorian era.