Symbolic Interactionism in Victorian Women


The sociologist Clarke (1997) discovered that every individual one way or the other upholds some kind of creativity or narrow-mindedness in her personality. We never know what a personal belief or what a person expects from the other when it comes to ‘symbolic interaction’ until we discover through interpretation and definition of her meaning. The word ‘symbols’ has been used in the quote of Clarke in terms of manipulation.

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The manipulation of ‘symbols’ can be understood in the light of those ‘assumptions’ or ‘believes’ that one built against the other person. For example, a Victorian woman who belongs to a high class does not need to tell her social gathering or friends that she is a wealthy woman. Because it is already understood by society that she is wealthy, she feels no need to tell society. Now, that does not mean that if her society knows her, everyone outside her social gathering would know.

Symbol manipulation, in this case, can be understood in dual ways

  • Her social circle being aware of her likes and dislikes would react according to t her expectations. That means here, the symbol manipulation has been done perfectly. What she assumes from her society, her social gathering deals with her that way or in simpler words communicates how she likes to be communicated. There is no communication barrier.
  • The society is not interested in the notion of whether she is ‘creative’ or ‘narrow-minded’, that means whatever her attitude is towards her social circle or family members or women of a lower class, that would not make any difference in their attitude to reveal that they don’t understand her. In brief words, society is “manipulating” her behavior through “symbols”, “gestures” or “facial expressions”. Now if her facial expressions would turn blank, they would not be able to give any meaning to others so that they can predict what she wants.

It is through meaning that social event arises. For example, person X wants to communicate with person Y. Though person X does not know about person Y, still he trusts him because in his perception person Y is trustworthy. However, this may not be the case, person Y might not be trustworthy and deceives person X. It is because person X has perceived person Y in a wrong manner what person Y is not up to, hence a social event has arisen.

Symbols generate meaning and meaning makes it easier for the person to be well understood before society. An example of symbols is that of verbal communication. In verbal communication, facial expressions and gestures can be understood as symbols which while conducting communication are useful to analyze what the communicator wants to connote. In this way, it is easier for society to judge the meaning of the communicator, on the other hand, it is also easier for the communicator to present himself or herself in front of society.

Self-definition and self-destruction

It is human nature that every individual wants to present him or her in front of society in such a manner as if he or she is the best person society has ever got to know. This behavior provides him with the opportunity for social interaction through which he could be analyzed by other members of society. On one hand, this is an opportunity for him to showcase himself or herself but on the other hand, he or she is reluctant to analyze him or herself, as it is the society that analyses him or her in the true sense. The reason is that symbols are the true indicators of a person and society as well. What is society? A group of persons possessing common characteristics in terms of behavior might be in terms of perception too. Every person in society serves as the main unit of analysis. The meaning of society is constructed based on what it represents.

In the case of Victorian women, society was represented by two categories. The lower-class women and the upper-class women. Since the ‘self-construction of the upper class was based on negative symbols such as ‘attitude, rage’ etc, therefore it was perceived by the lower class in the same manner that the Victorian women tried others to perceive.

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Self-definition is a creation of society and self-construction is not possible without the contribution of society. It is society that makes us. For example, one cannot be a French speaker unless the community around him or her is concurring and does not conform about his being French. In this way the individual who is after a self-definition emanates, or displays, indicators of the self-definitional essence that are potentially reacted to by the community. These indicators or symbols are either positive or negative for either they output the positive self-description that conforms to the individual or the negative that does not coincide with the character or statement of the individual. Symbols, therefore act beyond the physical appearance of the groups or individuals.

Though Victorian women are the best example of self-definition, as their society has made them this way, their ‘accuracy’ or ‘stability’ when judged in front of the lower class does not prove them. That means to the lower class they are no more important than their physical wealth and since they are wealthy, the lower class is bound to obey them. The unnecessary self-descriptions and persuasions in context with the lower class suggest that Victorian women are materialistic and want to be humble in their way, but since the lower class women are well aware of their “attitude” they never bother to complain or mind. This “attitude” is not the main problem of Victorian women, their social cognition and structure that constitutes ‘Me’ in them are social psychologically built-in within their personalities since childhood.

Unstructured personality is that of a person in which he or she says about himself or herself a significant fact which even though the society or another person do not entertain with any confidence, here the hypothesis that conforms with what he says would agree with what complete knowledge of him would lead others to say of him. How an unstructured person interacts is known as unstructured manner whereas the situation which does not coincide or does not prove that person in front of his or her society is the unstructured situation.

Long-term goals require commitment and dedication. Briefly, long-term goals are set by those having positive attitudes and normal personality traits. Since oppressed groups do not follow a positive approach, therefore they don’t set up long-lasting aims and objectives. Of course, nothing is more important for such individuals than to satisfy their ego, and for this, they could sometimes go to every negative extent. An example is the humiliating attitude of Victorian women towards others. Their humiliation is because this way they feel the pleasure of their ego, or we can say such behavior gradually becomes the need of their ego without which they are unable to lead satisfying lives.

‘Self-definition’ can be defined in terms of cognition about oneself in which an individual perceives having permanent qualities, which in turn have implications for future behavioral and thinking patterns. Self-definitions depend upon being narrow or broad or being occupationally-directed irrespective of what the social roles it performs. It can also be constructed in terms of what society fears about, that is being obnoxious, criminal, or a maniac, independent of what human qualities are not prescribed in self-definition.

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Symbolic Indicators can be understood in the following manner. When people say and relate themselves to a profession, like studying and attaining a medical or engineering degree, this is called ‘self-completion, and when they further prove themselves that they are worthy of getting a job in their respective professions, is called ‘symbolic indicators’. The self-completion theory states that when symbolic indicators lack in a person, he or she strives hard to accomplish some other goal. In this manner, self-completion theory acts as a component of symbolic interaction.

Symbolic interactionism

The symbolic self-completion theory states that in situations in which status-conscious people show status anxiety, they are engaged in ‘self-symbolization’, in this manner we could say that they use symbols to boost their identity in front of the lower class. Therefore Self-symbolization is the zenith that occurs when a person’s status is allowed and welcomed by others to be accepted as status markers.

‘Symbol’ or ‘representing oneself in front of others’ is the same thing here. ‘Symbol acts as the vehicle for setting up reaction’ means that it is through self-symbolization that people legitimize the individual. If person X shows rage against person Y, person Y will not show any love or sympathy towards person X but would react accordingly.

By ‘ego’ and ‘markers of progress’, it is meant that their egoistic being after acknowledging that others have perceived them in the way they wanted to be, is characterized by success, they feel as if they are the most successful people on earth because they have satisfied their ego and inner self. In this way, they count themselves as markers of progress. If seen socially, the psychology of every person is the same (except for the status-conscious group) which is to acknowledge oneself in such a manner that the society feels the pride to accept them. In this way, they are capable of ‘registering’ themselves onto the community.

Everyone knows that society has also some norms, in the light of which it accepts any class or group, therefore acknowledging the fact oppressed group unintentionally is limited to follow those rules. For example, a higher class individual is aware of the limitations of the society like ‘assassination’, ‘burglary’ in the society are labeled as crimes; therefore he is restricted not to perform any act of violence. This might put him in a situation in which to restrain himself from such deeds serves as his ultimate goal. On the other hand, he is aware that he is unable to endear society, forcefully. Therefore as a consequence, he is likely to adopt a ‘dogmatic’ attitude, for which he thinks though is not a permanent solution to this problem, temporarily he could satisfy his ego by adopting small acts based on ‘negativity’ and ‘pessimism’.

Goals vary according to status and class, and for a status-conscious group like Victorian women, long-term goals if any are those deeds that either provide utmost satisfaction to their ego or make them endearing in their social circle of relatives or friends. Their objective does not confine to monetary values or attaining some financial success but to gain esteem from others particularly the lower class. This is their only goal prescribed by their subconscious mind and the only solution to their chaotic mind. By proving their self-esteem they make society believe in their ‘social reality and ‘power’. Here the power can be understood as ‘conscience’, which distinguishes good deeds from bad.

As oppressed groups are not subjected to participate in long-term goals, therefore, their complexities are also not long terms. For example, the goal of disgracing a person may be one goal of an oppressed person, after which it would seem that his task is accomplished.

Self-definition theory acts as a process by which one constructs or destructs her personality based on broad patterns or narrow perceptions, whereas self-completion is the point where the construction or destruction ends up. Both these theories play a significant role in ‘symbolic interactionism’ indirectly as these theories shape up the personality and it is this personality that the society analyses before it.

By overlooking long-lasting goals, it is meant that oppressed groups are so much busy satisfying their egoistic needs that if somehow; persistence of some morals is there in their conscience they are rejected by their ego. Self-symbolization has been described above. Symbols never lie, for instance, a livid person is followed by such physical expressions that he or she does not need evidence to prove her rage. It would be obvious from their physical appearance.

A negative outcome or negative interpretation of the symbols means the negative or unpredictable consequences, which occur as a result of hurting their self-esteem. ‘Symbol’ serves as ‘self-esteem’ in this context. The sentence ‘self-esteem tends to be the initiation of negativity or positivity, is described in context with the working-class Victorian women, who are not necessarily subjected to a negative or positive attitude, and since her resources are limited and monetary values defined, therefore most probably she is a positive-minded woman, who if collided with her self-esteem would think in all directions. In this way, her ‘self-esteem’ is an open invitation to be pessimistic or optimistic.

Since cognition comprehends what it takes to be a member of a more powerful group, therefore an oppressed person is familiar with all the unconstructive customs that would make the other powerful person more pestilential.

In this way, they do accomplish the task or assign negative labels to the other group. By the notion ‘self-prototype may play a critical role in selecting and abstracting pertinent information about familiar others’, it is stated in depth that an oppressed group understands another oppressed group more than what he comprehends about the one who does not belong to his group of family. Since their habits are the same, therefore it is not difficult for one pessimistic person to understand the other pessimistic individual. Similarly, individuals or groups whose nature conforms understand each other more than they understand the individuals or groups of opposite nature.

The contribution ‘conscience’ plays in ‘symbolic interactionism’ causes an individual to think dual ways about the personal traits in self-prototype. This indirectly escorts to ‘symbolic interaction’ where an individual is free to choose from whatever comes his or her way, either right or wrong.

Attitudes are the reflection of what a person’s internal believes is, a human with good morals is sensitive to his attitude and is reluctant to humiliate others through his behavior while a ‘dogmatic’ person whose cognition is based upon being status conscious is never sensitive to his conscience. Such a person’s conscience never indicates him to where he is wrong initially, and so his inner self continues the way to pessimism being astute.

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