Social Class in "Tess of the D’Urbervilles", "Wuthering Heights" and "The Importance of Being Ernest"
The chosen pieces of British literature for this essay include Tess of the DUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde. It is worth noting that all of these pieces of literature highlight the theme of social class and the behaviors of individuals in society in relation to their social classes. Specifically, Tess of the DUrbervilles highlights the theme of social class through a presentation of numerous complex pictures on the significance of social class in England during the 19th century and the challenges of defining class in the simplest way possible.
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Three key actors in this novel including Tess, Angel, and Alec are deeply confused because they do not have a clear understanding of the social classes they belong to. More so, Wuthering Heights highlights the precarious nature of social class during the 19th century in England. It represents the fact that the British society was divided into various classes including royalty, aristocracy, the gentry, and the lower class that seemed to cut across the largest part of the society. Key characters in this piece of literature seem to be motivated by their class before undertaking any form of action. For instance, Catherine decides to marry Edgar who comes from the upper class to improve her position in the society. Social class in The Importance of Being Earnest is presented in a satirical manner to highlight the opinion that the wealthy individuals do not do anything vital in the society. For instance, Cecily and Gwendolen who come from the upper class do not work as hard as people from other classes. Thus, Wilde takes a satirical approach to the presentation of social class in the novel hence indicating differences among individuals from diverse classes in the 19th century Britain.
This paper explicates the representation of the theme of social class in different works of literature including Tess of the DUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.
It is worth noting that Hardy brings out the theme of social class in his novel through a discussion of the changing ideas of social classes on the Victorian Island during the 19th century in Britain. As noted earlier, this theme is similar to the other two works of literature explicated in this paper. In Tess of the DUrbervilles, asocial class is presented through complex pictures that highlight its vital nature during the 19th century in England, and the challenges that different individuals encounter as they try to find a firm definition of their social class. In line with the novel, the actual definition of social class seems to be changing with time as individuals interact with each other. For instance, it presents the view that the evaluation of social class has widely changed in the Victorian times compared to its evaluation during the Middle ages in Britain (Hardy 34). The Victorian times tend to recognize social class by the focus on wealthy compared to the lineage that was being emphasized in the Middle Ages. The Durbeyfields help explain this entire theme with the reiteration that social class is gradually being embraced in another form compared to the past form in which it had been understood by people. The Victorian context prioritizes wealth in the definition of the class that one may be identified with.
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This means that the wealthiest individuals were automatically recognized as being in the highest class without a consideration of their genealogical orientation. In the novel, Simon Stokes, the father of Alec, takes advantage of this categorization of social classes hence investing a large part of his fortune with the aim of purchasing an attractive family name and recognition into the Stoke-dUrbervilles clan. Everyone was ready to take advantage of the changed understanding of social class to move his/her family to the next level (Balamir 12). However, this was only easier for the wealthiest individuals in the 19th century Britain where everyone wanted to be associated with the best class in the society.
The novel reveals that the class confusion was a common element among the majority of people who lived in Britain because of the changing definitions that led to misunderstanding. The Clare clan is an example of these confusions because their most hopeful son, Angel, is focused on becoming a successful farmer and marrying a milkmaid. Accordingly, this breaks the Victorian understanding of social class because it goes beyond the fact that he comes from a wealthy background with adequate Cambridge education. The high sense of confusion is highlighted in the way people cannot stick to their defined classes as required by the Victorian age. Additionally, Angel goes ahead to bypass the effective definition of class by interacting with ordinary farm laborers such as Tess (Hardy 73). He is not a strict aristocrat and is not ready to follow the strict nature that is required for different classes in Britain during the 19th century.
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This indicates that people from different classes were willing to interact with others more freely during the Victorian times compared to the Middle Ages when social class focused on the blood relationships among people in the society. In fact, Angel, Tess, and Alec are significantly confused about their social classes. This is because of the free interactions they have without a realization that they come from different social background with varying levels of resources. Overall, this novel presents a view that the definition of social class in Britain has been changing over years hence leading to confusions among people. This was also crucial because it contributed to the changing landscape in terms of interactions among people from different classes. The main characters of the novel including Tess, Alec, and Angel help indicate the view that social relationships were made easier and more comfortable with the changing understanding of social class in Britain during the 19th century.
Similarly, Wuthering Heights presents the precarious nature of social class in Britain during the 19th century. It highlights the view that the 19th century British society was widely divided into classes including the royalty as the uppermost class. The royalty was followed by members of the aristocracy, the gentry, and finally, the lower class that was made up by most of the occupants in Britain at that time. The gentry was also referred to as the upper middle class, and it was composed of servants and large estates. Members from the gentry class were not allowed to hold titles because their status was subject to changes at any given time.
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The Earnshaws and the Lintons are in line with this move doe to their belonging to the gentry class (Bronte 67). These individuals are assumed to have had a fragile position in the British society during that time. However, this piece of literature affirms the view that aristocrats were identified by a formal and settled social status in the British society. They held positions in the society and were recognized by these positions. Nevertheless, members of different social classes could not interact with people from other classes easily. Everyone seemed to have his/her own identity, and they were treated differently in the society. The level of property that one owned was key in determining the position he/she was given in the society. Social classes seemed to be more fixed, which made it difficult for one to move from one social class to another.
The novel highlights the fact that the actions of most characters are motivated by the class desire and the need to rise up the social ladder in terms of class identification. Catherine, who is one of the key characters in the book, decides to marry Edgar with the belief that she would become the most successful woman in her neighborhood with the imminent class adjustment. Most people are focused on promoting their social classes and ensuring they stick in their respective social classes as they live with others in the society. Others such as Catherine are not comfortable with their lowest class identification and look forward to getting married to wealthy individuals to improve their class in the society (Bronte 81). For instance, in the novel, it is obvious that the Lintons want to remain rooted in their gentry social class and are ready to prove to anyone the admiration of their class. They utilize their effective behaviors to prove the significance of their social class and their success factors as members of the gentry. On the other hand, the Earns haws have a weaker social ground because of the position they have. This implies that they are likely to fall in the lowest class because of the declining ownership in a society that appreciates individuals according to their ownership.
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This piece of literature also reveals the pains that members from different classes had to undergo to survive in the society. The class system in Britain in the 19th century meant that people underwent massive sufferings in trying to prove their position in the society. It was not easy for the Lintons to justify their position as members of the gentry class by working extra-hard to achieve the required level of wealth recognizable in the society (Buzan and Lawson 2). Again, changes in the class system were inevitable because most people wanted to be identified with the best class in the British society. The novel brings to light the view that social classes were changing at a speedy rate depending on the wealth of individuals in the society. This means that one could easily move from one class to another depending on the level of wealth owned and the association with members from the high class.
The theme of social class is also widely discussed in The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde. It is crucial to acknowledge that Wilde approaches the social class explanations in a satirical sense hence highlighting the behavior of different groups in the 19th century Britain. Again, he writes this from his experience of living among members of the highest class and developing a keen understanding of their behavior and their approach to life. In this play, Wilde asserts that most people from the upper class are trivial and shallow in terms of their actions and thinking (Wilde and Harad 83). They are not focused on anything despite having all the wealth and other resource endowments that help boost their position as members of the upper class. The satirical approach to the presentation of the trivial nature of the wealthy individuals in terms of their behavior and other actions is an indication of their unreasonable nature in terms of thinking first and coming up with concrete opinions to support their high class nature in the society. For instance, Gwendon and Cecily, who both come from the upper class, meet and profess immediate love for each other without adequate thought on this matter. They easily disagree over Ernest even after coming together. This is indicative of the trivial nature of the wealthy individuals in the society.
More so, the play reveals that most individuals from the upper class were not hard working compared to members from other classes. Characters who come from the lower class including Lane, Ms. Prism, and Miriam are the only ones that can be seen working. People from the upper class were always not ready to work hard because of the feeling that they already had everything they needed to make their lives more comfortable each day. Nevertheless, this seems to indicate the view that most people from the lower class work hard with the aim of improving their position in the society. They are keen to move to the next level of the societal structure instead of remaining in a lower class. The lower class sets a good example for the upper class by working hard in the continuous manner. Algernon believes that the lower class should be ready to show the upper class the way by going an extra-mile in terms of working hard and delivering the required output in the society.
Wilde satirizes the lives of the upper class group through marriage activities. He explains that they have little knowledge of the traditional requirements for an effective marriage ceremony in the aristocratic class in the British society (Wilde and Harad 128). They tend to contradict their own ideas through words that change constantly as they interact with each other in the society. The satirical presentation of the upper class in the British society during the 19th century helps in understanding of the actual behavior of this group of people during this time. The play gives the view that people from the lower class were more focused towards higher achievements and could potentially teach the wealthy a lesson on the best ways of living. The social class was also undergoing gradual changes as members from the upper class such as aristocracy started establishing relationships with the lowest class. Therefore, there is a reiteration of the view that members from different classes tended to work at different rates depending on their position in the class system.
In conclusion, all the above pieces of literature contain the common theme of social class as it was exhibited in the British society during the 19th century. They bring forward diverse ideas relating to the social class system and the interaction of members from different classes in the British society of the 19th century. Hardy emphasizes that social class has undergone significant transformation from the Middle Ages in the Victorian island as exemplified through different characters that lived in the British society during this period. The class system was changing at a fast rate, and it was gradually being associated with the wealth that one had compared to the blood relations that existed among different individuals. In tandem with these pieces of literature, it can also be seen that the British society was effectively divided into different groups including the royalty, the aristocracy, the gentry, and the lowest class in the society. Confusions were also common because members from different classes were always ready to interact with those from other classes. Wilde also affirms that people from different classes had varying approaches to work. He presents the theme of social class in a satirical manner hence bringing out the view that members from the wealthy class are not always able to work as hard as members from the lowest class. Overall, the operation of the class systems in the 19th century Britain is the central theme that could be seen across all the aforementioned pieces of literature. The theme of social class is highlighted with the examples of characters that played an instrumental role in telling the story in all these pieces. A point that could be underlined in tandem with this theme is that the class system has undergone significant transformations over the years, and it would keep changing with the interactions taking place in the British society.