Study Guide

A Season in Hell Society and Class

By Arthur Rimbaud

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Society and Class

I've a horror of all trades. Masters and workers: all peasants, ignoble. The hand on the pen's the same as the hand at the plough. – What an age of hands! – I'll never get my hand in. Anyway service goes too far. The honesty of beggary upsets me. (15)

In these lines, the speaker sees both masters and workers as equally distasteful, despite their differences in social class. They're both begging in his view—a view that doesn't make him feel any better, by the way.

Without even using my body to live, and idler than a toad, I've lived everywhere. Not a family in Europe I don't know. – I mean families like mine, who owe it all to the declaration of the Rights of Man. – I've known every son of good family! (16)

Hrm—so is our speaker really a downtrodden outcast? Or is he some spoiled rich kid who just wants to be seen as a social rebel? These lines both point to a kind of privileged background for the speaker, and also provide a contrast with his desires to leave all that behind.

Repose with riches is impossible. Wealth has always been so public. Divine love alone offers the keys of knowledge. (52)

Here the speaker rejects the notion that an upper class life can bring rest and relaxation. Everyone will be looking at you for starters—that hardly sounds peaceful. Instead, he's in favor of "Divine love," which may seem odd, given his position on Christianity (see "Themes: Religion"). Still, the main takeaway here is that the speaker to avoid the old game of climbing the social ladder. He's after a more spiritual reward.

Have faith then in me, faith soothes, guides, heals. Come, all you – even the little children – let me console you, may a heart go out to you – the marvellous heart! – Poor men, workers! I don't ask for prayer; with your trust alone, I'll be happy. (81)

Here the speaker seems to be cozying up to the poor and working class. He's rejecting religion in favor of the trust of those who dwell in society's economic basement. Is he genuinely attached to these folks, though? Or is he just pretending to be down with them so that he can seem like more of an outsider?

Never show me gems, I'd crawl on the carpet and writhe. My treasure, I'd like to be stained all over with blood. I'll never work. (99)

OK, then, speaker. Instead of a big, fat paycheck, we've got you this bucket of blood to pour all over yourself. Go to town, pal. Here the speaker is rejecting the trappings of wealth in favor of bodily sacrifice. Work is just a distraction for him. He wants his efforts to really count for, and cost him, something. We wonder how all his poor and working buddies might have felt about this idea.

Once upon a time did I not have a pleasant childhood, heroic, fabulous, to be written on leaves of gold – too fortunate! (269)

A-ha. Here we get another glimpse into the speaker's past privilege. It seems that he's rejecting that middle-to upper-class upbringing to become a social drop-out. He's turning his back on convention, wealth, and status—so there.

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