Study Guide

The Ruined Maid Society and Class

By Thomas Hardy

Society and Class

"O ''Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town? (1-2)

This innocent little passage is actually quite clever. The word "crown" makes us think of royalty, and by extension things that are special, different, and "higher." The word foreshadows the class distinctions that are developed throughout the poem.

-"At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon' and 'theäs oon' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compan-ny!"- (9-11)

Language is a great indicator of one's social class. The poor, laboring folk speak a much less formal dialect, while people like 'Melia speak the exact opposite. We can't help thinking that 'Melia doesn't quite belong with that "high compan-ny" she now keeps.

"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she. (12)

"Polish" is a word frequently used in discussions of class. It implies that people like 'Melia are nice, clean, and elegant, while people like the other woman are rough and dirty. Near the end of the poem, 'Melia will make this point much more explicitly.

-"Your hands were like paws then, you face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"- (13-15)

People in different social classes speak and look different. The word "paws" makes the poor laborers of the country seem less human, as does the strange "blue and bleak" appearance of their faces.

"My dear - raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she. (23-24)

If 'Melia is "polished," the other woman is "raw." In 'Melia's eyes, the lower classes are, essentially, immature, unripe, dirty—anything but clean and elegant. Just think of what a piece of gross, raw meat looks like to get an idea of how the metaphor is working (we know: eww).

-"You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!"- (17-19)

The other woman in this poem seems to think that the higher classes don't experience any of the emotional pain ("megrims and melancholy") that the poor folk do. It is as if life is all hunky dory, fine and dandy for rich people.

-"I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town"- (21-22)

The other woman really wishes she could escape her poverty and elevate herself to a different social class. She wants the fine things that 'Melia has, and wants to be pretty, too. She seems completely oblivious to the price 'Melia has paid.

"My dear - raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she. (23-24)

'Melia displays some high-class snobbery here, basically saying, "listen you poor little girl, you're not ruined like me." She also, however, reveals her own class origins in the word "ain't." As high class as she now is, 'Melia still hasn't completely assimilated.

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