Social class and inequality

Russell wrote Blood Brothers in 1981, and it was first performed as a musical in 1983. This was during the period that Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in power. There was very high unemployment during this time, particularly in industrial working-class areas in northern England, such as Liverpool - where Russell is from and where the play is set. Mickey and his family represent the working classes, who were badly affected by the economic downturn, whereas Edward and the Lyons family embody the middle classes, who thrived in the 1980s.

The difference between the Johnstone and Lyons families draws attention to the impact that a person’s social class can have on their opportunities in life. From the moment that Mrs Johnstone goes to work for Mrs Lyons at the beginning of the play, the audience’s attention is drawn to how their lives are worlds apart. This contrast is emphasised throughout the play, through the characters of Mickey and Edward. Even at the age of seven, the twins’ experiences of life are disparate. When they are young, their friendship overcomes their differences, but as they get older, the space between the brothers gets wider and harder for them to move past. Margaret Thatcher believed that anyone could be successful if they worked hard. Russell demonstrates that for Mickey this is not true. Without having the opportunities that Edward is given, Mickey’s prospects are very limited, regardless of how hard he works and his desire to succeed.

Question

How is the theme of social class and inequality shown in the play?

In Blood Brothers, Russell explores social class through:

  • Mrs Lyons’ manipulation of Mrs Johnstone.
  • The differences between the twins’ childhoods.
  • Mickey’s difficult adult life in contrast to Edward’s privileged existence.

Mrs Lyons and Mrs Johnstone

How does Russell show this?

In the song My Child, Mrs Lyons draws attention to all of the things she will be able to give to the twin that she takes, that Mrs Johnstone will be unable to provide.

Evidence

He’d have all his own toys and a garden to play in.

Analysis

These things are taken for granted by Mrs Lyons, but are out of the reach of the Johnstone family. This emphasises the differences between them. It also suggests that what Mrs Lyons is offering the child is materialistic so the difference between the mothers is based on possessions, rather than love and care.

Mickey and Edward as children

How does Russell show this?

When they first meet at the age of seven, Mickey and Edward are completely different.

Evidence

EDWARD
Fantastic. When I get home I’ll look it up in the dictionary.
MICKEY
In the what?
EDWARD
The dictionary. Don’t you know what a dictionary is?
MICKEY
‘Course I do … It’s a, it’s a thingy, innit?

Analysis

The way that the boys speak is very different, which reflects their backgrounds. While Mickey uses swearwords which Edward has not heard before, Edward is shown to be better educated. Russell indicates to the audience that social class can have a significant impact on the levels of education of children, giving them different starting points in life.

Mickey loses his job

How does Russell show this?

When Mickey loses his job, he is unable to support his family but has no support or options available to him, which Edward doesn’t understand.

Evidence

EDWARD
Why... why is a job so important? If I couldn’t get a job I’d just say, sod it and draw the dole, live like a bohemian, tilt my hat to the world and say ‘screw you’. So you’re not working. Why is it so important?
MICKEY
[Looking at him]: You don’t understand anythin’, do ye? I don’t wear a hat that I could tilt at the world.

Analysis

Due to Edward’s privileged background, he is unable to understand the difficulties that Mickey has being unemployed. Mickey has nothing to fall back on and Edward will never be in that position because of the support he gets from his family. This demonstrates the lack of understanding the higher classes can have of the desperation of unemployment for the working classes.

Mickey feels he could have had Edward’s life

How does Russell show this?

When Mickey finds out that he and Edward are twins, he is jealous of the opportunities that Edward has (and he missed out on).

Evidence

I could have been him!

Analysis

Russell draws the audience’s attention to how Mickey and Edward’s lives have been affected by the opportunities they have had (as a result of their social class) rather than their personalities. If Mickey had access to the same education and contacts that Edward had, would the tragic ending have been avoided?

Question

How does Russell explore the theme of social class and inequality in Blood Brothers?

  • Mrs Lyons has more power than Mrs Johnstone as a result of her social position. She is able to manipulate her into giving up one of the twins.
  • Mickey and Edward are able to overcome the significant differences between them when they are young, but these differences are not as easy to brush aside as they get older.
  • When they grow up, the twins are pulled apart by their differences. Edward is unable to empathise with Mickey’s desperate situation and his frustration at being unemployed.
  • As adults, Edward (who becomes a councillor) has a lot more power than Mickey. He is able to find Mickey a job and arranges a council house for Mickey, Linda and their daughter.

All of these events happen as a result of the different social classes of the Johnstones and the Lyons families.