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Jack the Ripper - Did Capitalism Kill the Women?

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Submitted By Lozz68
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Whitechapel London, also known as the East End, was the scene of at least five gruesome murders in 1988 that were committed by a killer now famously known as Jack the Ripper. These murders took place in the height of transition from feudalism to capitalism and fueled by this, the East End was plagued with gross overcrowding, unemployment, and was a place of severe poverty and prostitution. Marxist theories of alienation and dialectical materialism help to explain how the rise of capitalism formed the case setting and supported The Ripper’s murders of five women.
In the mid-nineteenth century, an influx of Irish and Jewish immigrants hit England and swelled the population, including that of East London (Kershen 2008). Whitechapel suffered gross overcrowding and an urban proletariat started to emerge (Rumbelow 2001). Housing and working conditions became worse and poverty led many people to alcohol, crime and violence and women were driven into prostitution as work was hard to find (Vaughan 2008). Many people were dependent on lodging houses for a place to sleep, and would only be admitted if they had four pence as payment. Those who did not have the money were left outside on the streets (Rumbelow 2001).
The first of the official Jack the Ripper murders occurred in the early hours of 31st August 1988 (Rumbelow 2001). A woman later identified as forty-two year old Polly Nichols was found with her throat cut from ear to ear and when taken to the morgue and undressed by morgue assistants it was found that the rest of her body had been ‘ripped’ (Rumbelow 2001). Polly had been last seen trying to enter a lodging house an hour before but was refused entry as she could not afford a bed (Rumbelow 2001).
Only a week later on the 8th December the body of Annie Chapman, a forty-five year old prostitute in the area was found half a mile from the previous murder (Rumbelow 2001). Her throat had also been cut and she had been disemboweled (Rumbelow 2001). Annie Chapman had also been turned away from a boarding house earlier, and had been seen haggling with a man in the street and was then seen leaving with him less than thirty minutes before she was found (Rumbelow 2001).
In the early hours of 30th September, two more bodies were found and the day became known as the ‘double event’ (Rumbelow 2001). The first body, Elizabeth Stride, was found when the killer had only partially finished his work. He had been hiding in the shadows when a salesman came across the woman, and slipped away unseen before the authorities arrived (Rumbelow 2001). By four hours later the second victim’s body had been found. The second woman, identified as Catherine Eddowes, had been in police lockup for being drunk and incapable only an hour before (Rumbelow 2001). The police later found a bloody piece of her apron and on the wall above it were scrawled the words ‘the Juwes are the mean that will not be blamed for nothing' (Rumbelow 2001).
During the month of October, Jack the Ripper appeared to take a break. It had appeared a schedule had begun to appear, with the murders occurring on weekends and at the beginning and end of the month (Rumbelow 2001), however October did not follow this assumption. Criticism of the police grew as the killer was still not found, and interest and newspaper coverage exploded (Ogan & Alison 2005). Huge numbers of letters where sent into the News Agency and the Whitechapel Vigilance committee, which was a grouping of citizens hoping to do something about the murders (Ogan & Alison 2005). Three of these letters were of concern and were possibly from the killer himself, one of which contained part of a human organ which he claimed to be his victims (Rumbelow 2001).
On the 8th or 9th November 1988 Mary Jane Kelly, another prostitute, became the last official murder committed by Jack the Ripper. She was killed and mutilated in her lodging after soliciting a customer, and was found the next day (Rumbelow 2001). It is generally believed that the murders stopped here because of the killer’s death, imprisonment or simply emigration (Marriot 2010). While there were only five official murders linked to the killer, there were also four additional murders which were detailed in the file of the Whitechapel Murders, and many other attacks that could have been attributed to attempts of the Ripper (Marriot 2010). These however were not counted towards the Culprit’s list as they had some differences in circumstance from the official murders (Marriot 2010).
To this day there is still no proven motive or identity for Jack the Ripper. There have been hundreds of suspects in regards to the Whitechapel murders; however the concentration of the murders on the weekends and within a small area suggests that Jack the Ripper was a local who worked throughout the week (Marriot 2010). It has also been proposed that he was educated upperclassman who had knowledge in the medical field because of the accuracy of the mutilations, or someone else who would have practice at this, such as a morgue attendant or butcher (Marriot 2010).
In the absence of an obvious motive it is possible to look at the case setting of the murders as a driving factor in the events. During the 1880s, Europe was experiencing an emergence of an urban proletariat (Mikkelsen 1996). The transition to capitalism meant huge changes throughout the world and drove the main means of industrialisation (reference). This industrialisation and the change to private ownership of entities, according to Marx (1887), led to a separation of the working class proletariat and those who owned the methods of production (Mikkelsen 1996). The working class earned wages for their labour but were exploited by the upperclassmen aiming to make a profit from the goods and services produced (Toler 2011). Workshops usually had unsanitary work conditions, required long hours and paid very low wages (Haggard 1993).
With the influx of Irish and Jewish immigrants during this time in the area, employment was hard to come by and the unemployment rates were growing (Rumbelow 2001). It was a period of high tension between the classes and economic uncertainty (Haggard 1993) and much of the East End was at or below the poverty line (Toler 2011). Many workers were separated from family and huge numbers of women turned towards prostitution to make money (Haggard 1993). Others turned to violence, alcoholism and the separation between the classes grew (reference).
Karl Marx’s theory of Alienation (Alienation in Capitalist Society 1979) describes the occurrence of a worker being alienated from their humanity in a capitalist society because the worker can only express labour, and the worker becomes an instrument, unit or thing to be used in the privately owned system of industrial production (Alienation in a Capitalist Society 1979). Marx identifies four types of alienation, which include alienation of the worker from the work (from the product of his labour), alienation of the worker from working (from the act of producing), alienation of the worker from himself as a producer and alienation of the worker from other workers (Marx 1927).
This alienation can be seen in the case setting of Whitechapel during the Jack the Ripper murders. The working class has lost their identity, both to the companies employing them and to other workers competing for the jobs (Katz 1993). In context this has resulted in the inhabitants of the area becoming isolated without the help of family and communities that may be seen outside the city and this effectively make them ‘easy-targets’ (Rumbelow 2001). Being alone without lodging at night proved to be the downfall of a number of Jack the Ripper’s victims, which is demonstrated by the fact that more than one victim was killed shortly after being refused entrance to lodging houses (Rumbelow 2001). The victim Catherine Eddowes was also attacked while outside in the early hours of the morning unescorted (Rumbelow 2001). The police are unsure why she was not escorted that night as there were clear instructions that no women should be left alone on the streets as a safeguard against the Ripper, and she left directly from the police station after being released (Rumbelow 2001). It appears that this oversight allowed Catherine’s death. As the Ripper became more confident he began pushing the boundaries of these ‘easy-targets’, although it is unclear whether possible victims were harder to come by or he was just building on his Modus Operandi (Rumbelow 2001). The final official murder was committed inside the victim’s lodging, however she was soliciting with customers at the time in order to make money and Jack the Ripper would have had easy access to the women who was otherwise alone (Rumbelow 2001). In addition, in this isolated environment the victims would not be missed, such as they would have had they been living in a close-knit community with people to look out for them. They do not have an identity in this capitalist society and therefore are not viewed as important. It can be seen that the transition to capitalism and through alienation of workers, the inhabitants of Whitechapel were left vulnerable and alone.
In privately owned, capitalist entities, the exploitation of workers in order to make a profit led to long hours and a low wage for workers, this combined with the high influx of people into the area meant that workers were considered labour units, as defined by Marx (1927) which could be easily replaced or disposed of as it suited the upperclassman (Katz 1993). This created high tension between the classes, and as discussed it has been proposed that Jack the Ripper was an upperclassman with medical knowledge who was taking advantage of those in a lower class (Marriot 2010). The exploitation created within business entities created a distinct line between the working class and those who owned the modes of production. This mindset could have allowed for the killer, had he been of the upper classes, to justify his actions as the working class women were below him, and ‘units’ at his disposal. It is also possible that he believed them to be worthy of being punished for turning to prostitution.
By living in an area struggling with the transition to a capitalist system, many of those living in the East End turned to other forms of income, namely women turning to prostitution (Haggard 1993). London’s Metropolitan Police Service estimates that there were 1200 prostitutes and about 62 brothels in Whitechapel during the time of the murders (Rumbelow 2001). Many of these women did not have a regular bed to sleep in, and were over the age of 40 (Rumbelow 2001). Their lodging was dependent on their day’s earnings and if they did not spend it on alcohol before heading to a lodging house (Rumbelow 2001). It can be seen that these women were pushed into this lifestyle by the changes in the capitalist system creating alienation in the workplace. Because the women found it very difficult to find and keep work, and when they did it was hard, long hours for little pay, prostitution seemed the only option (Haggard 1993). Prostitution then put the women in harms way as they were out on the streets at night and inviting strangers into their rooms. It gave the killer opportunity, just as the isolation of the women did.
Another Marxist theory, Dialectical Materialism, proposes that all economic order increases to a state of maximum efficiency, while simultaneously developing internal contradictions that cause systematic decay (Clapp 2010). Dialectical materialism can be said to have increased the emotional, physical and financial poverty of the working class due to these internal contradictions (Clapp 2010). This can be seen in the case setting of the Whitechapel murders as most of the inhabitants of the area were poverty stricken, and were turning to alcoholism due to the emotional pressure (Rumbelow 2001). In addition, their physical well-being would have suffered due to the long hours, lack of food, hygiene and lodging and particularly the health of those who took to prostitution would have suffered (Rumbelow 2001).
In regards to Jack the Ripper, these aspects of poverty seen in the East End would have contributed to the events surrounding the murders by providing inhabitants of a low working class with no lodging and limited physical or emotional strength to fight back (Rumbelow 2001). In this way, Dialectical Materialism makes vulnerable targets for murder in similar way as alienation.
In conclusion, Jack the Ripper became a famous serial killer after murdering five women in East London in 1888. The murders were gruesome and involved slashing the throats of the women and mutilating their bodies. Although the killer was never found and charged there have been many theories on suspects in the case. Without being able to find the killer it has been difficult to understand the motive behind the murders and as such it is important to look at the case setting of Whitechapel during this time. The area was suffering due to the transition to a capitalist society and was a place of poverty, unemployment and prostitution. This can be discussed using the Marxist theories of alienation and dialectical materialism, where alienation has caused isolation between workers, their work, their families and has made them vulnerable to attack. Dialectical materialism has also caused internal contradictions to the improvements made by capitalism and has caused financial, physical and emotional poverty to those living in the East End. This has also made victims vulnerable to the attacks by leaving them without lodging and without strength to fight back. Although it cannot be said that Capitalism killed the women, as it takes an individual to actually commit the murders, it can be seen that the impacts caused by the change to capitalist society definitely increased the availability and vulnerability of victims and created easy targets for Jack the Ripper.

Reference List
Alienation in Capitalist Society 1979, Education Bulletin, No. 2, Socialist Standard, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, viewed 19 December 2012,
Clapp, Robin 2010, 'An introduction to Dialectical Materialism', A different Outlook: Marxist Philosphy, viewed 20 December 2012,
Haggard, RE 1993, 'Jack the Ripper as a threat of Outcast London', Essays in History, Vol 35,
Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, Viewed 19 December 2012, .
Katz, CJ 1993, Karl Marx on the Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, viewed 19 December 2012,
Kershen, Anne J 2008, The Immigrant Community of Whitechapel at the Time of the Jack the Ripper Murders, Werner.
Marriott, Trevor 2010, Jack the Ripper: The 21st Century Investigation, John Blake Publishing Ltd.
Marx, Karl 1887, 'The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power', Capital, The process of production of capital, Vol 1, Viewed 19th December 2012,
Marx, Karl 1927, 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844', New World Paperbacks, Vol. 27.
Mikkelsen, Flemming 1996, Working-class formation in Europe: in search of a synthesis, Amsterdam, viewed 19 December 2012,
Ogan, J & Alison, LJ 2005, 'Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel murders: A very Victorian critical incident', The forensic psychologist's casebook: Psychological profiling and criminal investigation, Vol 23 no. 46, viewed 18 December 2012, .
Rumbelow, D 2001, Jack the ripper, IL: Contemporary Books, Inc., Chicago, viewed 17 December 2012, .
Toler, Pamela D. 2011, 'The Industrial Revolution and the New Proletariat', The Everything Guide to Understanding Socialism, viewed 19 December 2012
Vaughan, Laura 2008, Mapping the East End 'Labyrinth', Museum of London and Random House.…...

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...There are many possible suspects in the Jack the Ripper case. Some suspects seem more probable than others, however. Based on information that has been obtained from what happened during the “Autumn of Terrors,” as many call it, there are many facts that seem probable about Jack the Ripper. The specific suspects that have been publicized fit some of these possible qualities and tendencies of Jack the Ripper, though none fit all the standards. A background in medicine along with a history of some sort of mental illness are likely characteristics of the Ripper. Also, he was most likely someone that was often seen around his victims long before their murders. Jack the Ripper was most likely someone with a background in medicine. At the very least, it is feasible he had more basic anatomical knowledge than the average citizen of his time. Based on autopsies and reports from medical officials who saw the bodies after the murders, it is evident that the Ripper was able to remove his desired organ without disturbing any surrounding areas too severely. Dr. Frederick Gordon Brown, the medical examiner who performed the post-mortem exam on Catherine Eddowes, also believed the murderer had medical knowledge based on the exam he performed on Eddowes’ body: “I believe the perpetrator of the act must have had considerable knowledge of the position of the organs in the abdominal cavity and the way of removing them. It required a great deal of medical knowledge to have removed the kidney...

Words: 1567 - Pages: 7

Premium Essay

Jack

...Despite the many murders that occurred frequently in Eastend in the 1880’s, Ripper’s murders were said to be ‘singular’ and ‘peculiar’ which suggests that it was unique and that the method of murder was very different. The phrases ‘extraordinary violence’ and ‘excess of effort’ infers that Jack the Ripper was vicious, brutal and went over the top. The victims were the ‘poorest of poor’ so the murderer was not trying to rob the victims. Since there was ‘no adequate motive in the shape of plunder’ it suggests that Jack the Ripper committed these crimes because he or she enjoyed killing. However the source describes the work of Jack the Ripper as the ‘work of a demented being’ which suggests that Jack the Ripper was mad. 2. Study Sources A, B and C Does the evidence of Source C support the evidence of Sources A and B about the Ripper murders? Explain your answer. (8) Sources A and C comment on how the victims were poor so money was not the murderer’s motive. Also the details of how the victim was murdered in source C supports the fact, in source A, that the murder was peculiar and had extra-ordinary violence. However source C is more detailed on the method of murder whereas source A is general describing the murder but not the method. Source C supports source A to a very little extent. Sources B and C agree on the fact that the murder was committed with the use of a knife – ‘In the neck there was a long incision’ ‘cutting the...

Words: 1484 - Pages: 6