The carriage bumps along the cobblestones through grimy, narrow streets. Dozens of dirty children clamber about, staring at us in our fine carriage. (3.58)
Gemma realizes the huge difference between her life and that of the rest of the population, and it makes her feel bad. This difference sets up the story to take place in the rich halls of Spence.
"What are they doing?"
"Putting in lines for electric lights," Tom answers, coughing into a white handkerchief with his initials stitched on a corner in a distinguished black script. (3.24-25)
This little detail gives us a clue about the class of Gemma and her brother—they must have some money in the family since Tom has an elegant, decorative nose rag.
"Now, it is very important that you conduct yourself in a manner befitting to your station while at Spence. It's fine to be kind to the lesser girls, but remember that they are not your equals." (4.19)
Tom is just full of delightful little tidbits of useful information, isn't he? And this little speech clues us in to just how wealthy Gemma's family is—she is even richer than some of the rich girls who go to Spence.
"You'll share a room with Ann Bradshaw. Ann is most helpful. She is one of our scholarship students."
That's a nice way of saying "one of our charity cases"… (4.64-65)
Being of a lower class amongst those high in society is like being a mouse dropped into a cage full of snakes. Ann is given some of the benefits the rich have by being able to go to Spence, but she will never have the same opportunities once outside its walls.
"My mother runs a salon in Paris, and when Pippa and I are graduated, we're going to Paris where Mama will have us outfitted by the finest couturiers in France. Perhaps we'll take you along as well."
It's not an invitation. It's a challenge. They want to know if I have the means to keep up with them. "Perhaps," I say. (6.75-76)
This seems to be the equivalent of deer butting heads or young siblings poking each other in the backseat—testing one another with wit rather than brute force.
After all, they have money and position and Ann has none. It's amazing how often you can be right as long as you have those two things working in your favor. (6.40)
Gemma thinks money and status works as a sort of free pass. Do you agree?
To be found alone with a man is shocking—a reason for a quick and necessary wedding. But to be found with a Gypsy! If I were to tell, Felicity would be ruined for life. (10.24)
Not only does a person in the upper class have to have money, but they also have to marry money and position—so Felicity making out with the Gypsy boy is about as scandalous as things get, since even if he had money he'd lack position just because he isn't white.
He mimics the high, prim voice of a society matron. "'Oh, did you hear about her? Oh, my dear, yes, caught in the woods with a heathen.' Tell your friend to stick to her own kind and stop toying with Ithal." (11.18)
Are there differences between Felicity's treatment of Ithal and Gemma's treatment of Kartik? What do you make of Kartik's insistence that Felicity leave Ithal alone?
"I'm going to have many men." She says this matter-of-factly, as if commenting on the weather, but she has to know she's being scandalous. (13.112)
Felicity makes this claim in the cave one night while the girls are drinking, but we're thinking there's simply no way she'd risk compromising her social status by taking such a risk.
Tom offers cakes and Ann, who has never refused a morsel of food in her life, declines as a well-born, properly bred lady should, lest she seem a glutton. I've created a monster. (26.116)
Even though Ann isn't from money or high society, she has seen enough of how the wealthy behave to pull it off in their company; she fools all of them into thinking she is their equal.