Unions

Professor Michael Demson on the Real-World Impact of Shelley's Writing. A Summary by Jonathan Kerr.

Professor Michael Demson on the Real-World Impact of Shelley's Writing. A Summary by Jonathan Kerr.

Shelley’s poetry, Michael Demson argues, gave American workers a kind of writing that helped them to understand the political and economic forces to which they were subjected. “The Mask of Anarchy” was especially important in this context: written in easy-to-understand language, this poem attacks the power imbalances that helped to keep the powerful empowered and the poor disenfranchised. The conditions that made this sort of thing possible when Shelley lived—corrupt legal systems, unequal access to education, and working conditions that kept labourers underpaid and vulnerable—remained largely unchanged a century later in America. This is why, Demson alleges, a poem like “The Mask of Anarchy” could act as such a catalyzing force for New York’s industrial workers, not only providing common people with a language for understanding their problems, but also helping them to build a sense of community.