Study Guide

The Wings of the Dove Society and Class

By Henry James

Society and Class

If the Jeopardy answer is "Society and Class," the correct question would be "What is the main obstacle to Merton and Kate's happiness?" Aunt Maud will only be satisfied if Kate marries a man who is either rich or part of the British aristocracy—and Merton, unfortunately, is a poor nobody with no prospects of climbing the social ladder.

It's also the necessity of getting Merton into the upper classes that leads Kate to encourage him to marry Milly. If you think of the action in The Wings of The Dove as a really depressing Rube Goldberg machine, the issue of society and class is the initial mechanism that starts the whole shebang running.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Do you think Aunt Maud has a point when she insists that Kate marry someone wealthy or upper class? Why or why not?
  2. What kind of comment does this book make about social class in general? Are all upper class people good? Are they bad? Or is it a mixed bag? Use specific examples from the text to support your answer.
  3. How does Milly manage to confuse the expectations of the people in London? Even though she's rich, why are people confused about which social class she belongs in?
  4. Why have Aunt Maud and Susan Stringham grown distant over the years? Why does having Milly around make Susan feel better about seeing Maud again? Use specific evidence from the text to support your answer.

Chew on This

In The Wings of the Dove, we are supposed to admire people like Maud Lowder and Sir Luke Strett as positive examples of how wonderful the upper classes can be.

In The Wings of the Dove, Henry James shows us that social class should never matter, and that true love should conquer all… even if sometimes it doesn't.

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