Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Speaker

By Thomas Hardy

Speaker

Well it's our lucky day today. "The Ruined Maid" has not one, but two speakers. Two, gang. That's like getting two for the price of one, or… something like that.

One speaker is a "raw country girl," a girl who does not have "fair garments," "gay bracelets," "bright feathers," or any of the other designer things that 'Melia has. In fact, we can pretty much say she is everything 'Melia is not. It is implied that this woman, who is never given a name, still digs for potatoes, still speaks in a funny voice ("prosperi-ty"), says things like "thik oon" ("this one"), and probably has a face that is "blue and bleak" (sad, but also dirty from working out in the dirt). Like many a poor, country girl living far from the allures of city life, this girl also yearns for the fine things that 'Melia now enjoys. We learn this in the poem's final stanza, and it comes as just a little bit of a shock.

The other speaker is obviously 'Melia, the "ruined maid" of the poem's title. She clearly used to be a poor, country girl, just like the other girl. While once a dirty, poor, hard-working laborer who lived on a farm, 'Melia is almost unrecognizable when her friend meets her. She is dressed to the nines, she's got sweet shoes, her skin is a lot nicer than it used to be (her cheek is "delicate" and her gloves actually fit), she speaks more properly, and on and on and on.

While 'Melia may look great, however, her character is questionable. Ah yes—here we have a familiar technique in literature, film, and just about every other kind of art: the whole, "seems great but really isn't" thing. We don't really know what has happened, but we do know that 'Melia is "ruined," that she has somehow violated the sexual norms of her time.

While we have no idea what really happened, the fact that she is "ruined" tells us her newfound riches have come at a price. If 'Melia's "purity," or "virginity," or whatever you want to call it has been compromised, so has anything resembling a unique identity. She no longer wears the dirt and grime and accent of a country girl and instead responds to her friend with formulaic, stock, robotic responses—"that's how we dress when we're ruined" (8), "some polish is gained with one's ruin" (12), etc. In a way, she's almost kind of snobby or stuck up, which is really too bad, especially for her friend. Or, more darkly, it could suggest that 'Melia's experience of being ruined has broken her spirit in a way. Sure, she may boast some boss threads, but she seems totally disengaged and unable to enjoy them. Sad.

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