Representations of the French Lower Classes in Literature During the Revolutionary Era

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   The picture to the left portrays five 'sans-culottes', including a market porter, a cobbler, and a joiner; who are all armed with a pike.

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the french lower-classes were equated with popular revolutionary ideologies. The sans-culotte consisted of the working-class. During the height of the sans-culotte movement, Momoro remarked, "A sans-culotte is someone who goes everywhere on foot, who isn't loaded with money like the rest of you, but lives quietly with his wife and children . . . on the fourth or fifth floor" (Lewis, 102). The reference to the upper floors comes from the fact that the poorer workers tended to occupy the top floors or attics of apartment blocks. Such descriptions are evocative but misleading. The sans-culotte did not necessarily represent the poorest section of the urban crowd, as pictured above. Some were poor, but the militant sans-culottes were more often than not skilled workers and shopkeepers from the middle class.

The elite members of the sans-culotte preferred the trouses of the working-man. He disdained the breeches of the aristocracy or upper-middle classes. They believed in the ideology that all men were equal, and therefore should not be segregated by fashion. In the picture, the members are working-men and hold the pike to symbolize their militancy. The pike was a common weapon of the lower-classes because it was easily constructable. It evened the playing field between the lower-class revolutionaries and the king's army.

 

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