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Setting :: Crime, Scandal, Spectacle


Four out of five of these murders were committed within a quarter mile of Whitechapel, London (Walkowitz, “Jack” 547).  At the time, London was separated into two areas: the East End and the West End.  The East End of London, where Whitechapel was located, was known as the poorer part of London where the working class lived.  In Whitechapel specifically, out of the 76,000 people living there, 39.2 percent of them were living under the poverty line (Haggard 198).  The poor work environment in the East End, which was characterized by “overcrowded, unsanitary workshops and long hours and low wages,” played a major role in the poverty of Whitechapel (Haggard 198).  The West End, on the other hand, was known as the wealthier part of London where the upper and middle classes lived.  To the people of the wealthier side of London, “Whitechapel provided a stark and sensational backdrop for the Ripper murders: a moral landscape of light and darkness, a nether region of illicit sex and crime, both exciting and dangerous” (Walkowitz, “Jack” 547).  Even though the East End and West End of London were very culturally and economically different, they were located next to each other.

1889 Map of London Poverty

1889 Map of London Poverty

The location of the Jack the Ripper murders was an important contributing factor to the development of the spectacle of the cases.  The juxtaposition of the East End of London, where Whitechapel is located, to the wealthier parts of London made class distinction a major topic of discussion throughout the examination of the cases.  To the people of London at the time, the East End “symbolized social unrest born of urban degeneracy” (Walkowitz, “Jack” 544).  The upper and middle classes were constantly reminded of how close they were to the working class in terms of geographic proximity and culture.  Many upper and middle class Londoners would travel into Whitechapel for various reasons.  The most common of these visitors were wealthy young men from the West End.  These men would come to Whitechapel to find entertainment in touring the “toughest, roughest, streets, taverns and music halls in search of new excitements” (Walkowitz, “City” 193).  As these men wandered the streets with nicknames such as “Bloody Alley,” “Frying Pan Alley,” and “Shovel Alley” they were warned to “tuck out of view any bit of jewelry that may be glittering about” (Walkowitz, “City” 194).  To the people of the West End, the East End provided entertainment for them in many ways.  They got a thrill out of the danger, were amazed by the poverty, and experienced the nightlife and prostitution that was prevalent there.  To the wealthy people of the West End, the distinct contrast between their lives and the lives of people in East End provided them with spectacle. However, because the upper and middle class saw the working class and their town as spectacle, it shows how divided their classes truly were.

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