In comparison to Ada, Sarah Lumb is more mischievous and rebellious when it comes to her attitudes towards the gender roles in the patriarchal society. While Ada’s concern about Sarah working as a munition at the factory stems from the protection and loving nature as a mother, Sarah is resistant to her mother’s economic pragmatism. Sarah’s actions are a result of the fact that while men like Prior and other soldiers were restricted on the trenches, women like Sarah in munition factories were finally able to gain independence through economic growth. Sarah openly speaks about her earnings before and after the war began, and she explains to Prior of her aspirations to work in the factory in response to her mother’s disapproval. At one point, during her conversation with Prior, Sarah says, “Same night I was packing me bags. No testimonial. And you know what that would’ve meant before the war?” (Barker 124). This quote suggests that Sarah’s job as a servant would have only prevented her improving and experiencing life along with less pay for domestic service. Hence, her solution was to leave with “No testimonial,” shows that she is doing something against her mother’s wishes since she avoids any type of explanation or confrontation about her decision. Moreover, when Barker describes Sarah’s new life at the factory, she says, “She worked in a factory, she said, making detonators. Twelve-hour shifts, six days a week, but she likes the work, she said, and it was well paid. ‘Fifty bobs a week'” (Barker 122). This shows how her job as a munition enabled her to find her desired source of income since her wage increased from ‘”ten bobs before the war'” (Barker 122) to “fifty bobs.” Through Sarah’s independence of being a working-class woman and being able to earn a living on her own shows the significant growth in independence many women faced during the war.
Although Barker shows the progression of women through increased economic independence, in the end, women were just “replacements” for men. According to Grayzel, “these women munitionettes took the place of both unskilled men (as ‘substitutes’) and skilled workers (as ‘dilutees’)” (Grayzel 29). I agree, indeed, women were “substitutes” and “dilutees” for men since they were seen as weaker replacements, hence why there is a huge divide in gender roles causing unfair wages. This is evident in Regeneration as the munition workers such as Sarah, are described as “All the women were yellow-skinned, and all, whatever their colouring, had a frizz of ginger hair … They don’t look human. … They looked like machines, whose sole function was to make other machines” (Barker 178). While these physical transformations can be a reflection of the societal shift that is taking place, it also suggests that the work these women do is, in fact, more dangerous and damaging. Although the absence of men resulted in a variety of job opportunities and an increased economic and sexual power, women were still, in Barker’s eyes, dehumanized in the process and merely seen as “machines” sustaining the war as factory workers. Ultimately, this suggests that the progression for women offered by the war was just short-term.
According to Grayzel and Proctor, “the assumption of the male breadwinner and the female homemaker remained unchallenged despite the lived experience of the war work” (Grayzel and Proctor 46). This provides an agreement to Ada’s economic pragmatism since she was always against Sarah working at the factory. Ada’s protection of her daughters from the society stems from the fact that Ada did not conform to the ideals of the Victorian Era herself. She was a single mother from the working-class sector, which was represented as humiliating during that time period. This resulted in Ada pretending to conform to society due to the repression that women were constantly battling, while in fact, she was disobeying the norms. Ada challenges the norms through her independence when she went to work as an unmarried woman, despite the fact that she dressed in all black (Barker 260), which was required as a widow during the 19th century, she still worked as an unmarried woman. Ultimately, suggesting that Ada was putting on a performance since she portrayed herself as a different person to conform to society to gain respect, while she was following different morals behind closed doors.
In conclusion, the war temporarily accelerates the social changes and Barker represents this shift in the everyday life of working-class women before and during the war through the characters of Ada and Sarah. During pre-war generation, as portrayed by Ada Lumb, women had little economic, sexual and domestic power, whereas during the war, the situation was different. Although the war accelerated some changes, the results indicated by the portrayal of Sarah in Regeneration makes the change questionable as the situation of women after the was is left on an ambiguous note. Barker shows the difficulties of a working-class woman and their everyday struggle, but at the same time emphasizes women’s complicity in perpetuating the societal norms. Barker uses Ada’s character to show this as she pretends to adhere to the patriarchal norms. While during the war women did gain independence through increased wages, but at the expense of their health and physical damages, as presented by Sarah, in the end, they are just machines who are replacements for men. Ultimately, suggesting that the progression that the war offered is tenuous and still in favor of men.