Matthew Arnold: Modernity

In both “Dover Beach” and “Culture and Anarchy,” Matthew Arnold illustrates his concern with modernity and its effects on society. He sees himself as a deeply divided man who was “unable to believe in the religion of the past and unwilling to accept the secular values of the present” (1558). This division and doubt is evident in his poetry and other works, which he used to criticize both society as a whole and specific members in it. Arnold’s goal was to bring awareness to others about his concerns, and motivate them to reevaluate their own lives and make changes that could positively affect the whole.

In “Dover Beach,” Arnold discusses what the Sea of Faith use to be compared to what it has become when he states, “But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (1562). He is blaming this change in the sea on the new mind sets that have arisen in the Victorian period, while also hinting at the reliance placed on machinery. I associate the long and withdrawing roar of the sea with the sounds of machinery and industrialization. He is suggesting that the society’s bondage to machinery is preventing people from looking to the self and developing that further.

Arnold expands on the pursuit of a perfect society in “Culture and Anarchy” when he claims, “He who works for sweetness and light, works to make reason and the will of God prevail. He who works for machinery, he who works for hatred, only works for confusion” (1596). Here Arnold is again stating his concerns with machinery and encouraging members of society to live for more than that….to live for what makes them happy. If a balance can be found between the two, a perfect culture can emerge.


4 thoughts on “Matthew Arnold: Modernity

  1. I found it interesting that, while Arnold was “unable to believe in the religion of the past,” he incorporates a Sea of Faith into “Dover Beach.” It almost seems as if he desperately wants to believe in some sort of religion, but can’t bring himself to do so. This goes along with the longing for the past that other bloggers have mentioned. Just thought I’d mention this interesting juxtaposition, and see if anyone else had ideas about it.

  2. I also found the religious aspect of these works interesting. In his biography it says that “he described himself as wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born.” He seems to have had trouble defining his personal views on religion especially with the changing times.

  3. In my opinion Arnold is a religious man but is as ecmu1 above quoted “wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born” unable to agree with the expressed religion of the past or the direction it is headed.

  4. All interesting comments. But what do you make of his desire, as Emily points out, “to make reason and the will of God prevail”? That’s a rather specific statement in light of the ambivalence he expresses elsewhere.

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