Under the Gaslight: The Character of Laura Courtland Essay

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Under the Gaslight: The Character of Laura Courtland


Under the Gaslight does indeed "acknowledge 'luck' or 'chance' or 'fate,' but it reinforces the importance of individual character at the same time that it suggests that integrity is not an absolute stay against the vicissitudes of circumstance" (159). This idea is mainly supported through the character of Laura Courtland--a symbol of both sides of the nature versus nurture debate.


Laura was born into a prominent, upper class family, the Courtlands. Her mother, Mary, in particular is a kind and generous woman who instinctively knows when she has "a duty to perform" and acts on it (164). Laura seems to have inherited this determined and honorable manner. She has
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From the age of six, she was raised by both the Godly and the good. She lived in "a country clergyman's [home] for instruction" (164), moral instruction no doubt, and in the Courtland home, raised by the aforementioned Mary Courtland. Their instruction later serves her well as she faces difficult times. Laura displays her strength of character, her honesty, and her dignity even when high society looks down upon her. She works, takes care of herself, and bears no hard feelings. Instead, she feels that "it is natural, everything will find its level. I sprang from poverty, and I return to it" (170).


As an infant, Laura is taken from her home and raised by a dishonest, thieving woman, Old Judas, who put her own daughter, Pearl, in Laura's place. For six years she was in Judas' "care," living in poverty and learning how to pickpocket. It is by chance that she pickpockets her real mother who then takes the child into the Courtland home.


However, Gaslight's author, John Daly, seems to imply that those first six years of life are not as formative, as important, as modern audiences believe. Laura overcomes those years of knowing only lies and stealing to become a heroine in the truest sense of the word. Pearl, too, exemplifies Daly's belief. She is raised by Mary for at least her first six years, but does not have the same bond with her that Laura does. When Ray mentions Mary's recent passing, Pearl brushes it off with, "'Pshaw, you're just like

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