by Robert Lowell
Skunk Hour Theme of Society and Class
Thematically, this is not the most important aspect of "Skunk Hour," but it's one that's clearly there, especially from the beginning, so it's worth our attention. Social status also seems to be one of many reasons our speaker feels so distant from the other islanders – they're caught up in money and status while he couldn't seem to care less. Check out the beginning of the poem. Before the speaker goes all inward and dark on us, he's painting a picture of the fancy, bourgeois lifestyle (or the desire for it), old money (and wanting to keep the newbies out), and the vacationers that use the island as their summer playground then duck out when the weather turns chilly. With that much attention to the issue of class at the beginning of the poem, it's certainly an important part of Nautilus Island's fabric.
Questions About Society and Class
- Lowell uses words like "heiress" and "hierarchic" to describe the woman at the beginning of the poem. What part of society do you think she belongs to? Based on your answer, is Lowell being sincere in his description of her?
- Of the people Lowell describes in the first four stanzas, where would you place each of them in society?
- Where do you think our speaker falls in all of this class ranking? Is he low class? High class? Somewhere in between? How can you tell?
Chew on This
Lowell is just poking fun at the old-fashioned preoccupation with class. The social status is all in the heads of these characters, and doesn't really exist in real life.
Class issues and envy are the reasons for our speaker's feelings of loneliness and madness.