Thomas Hardy writes about the divisions between the upper and lower classes within three of his stories: ‘Absentmindedness in a Parish Choir’; ‘The Withered Arm’; and ‘The Son’s Veto’.
The upper class were wealthy having a good lifestyle, well educated and very concerned with behaving appropriately; the lower class were poor and spent the little money they had on necessities, uneducated and they provided labour for the upper class and other wealthy land owners. He explores different ideas that differentiate between the classes.These ideas include thoughts of superstitions and sacrificing ones job or well being to uphold moral behaviour. Thomas Hardy’s stories were a reflection of any rural community or suburb of a town or city and its people that lived there. English society’s lives were dictated by the rules and moral standards that the people lived by.
How you behaved was important to everybody in the 1800’s no matter what class they were in. There were strict unwritten rules of how to behave and people would be disapproved of if they broke these conventions.One of these laws was not have a relationship of love out of your class. In ‘The Withered Arm’ we are told of a relationship – that resulted in a child – between Rhoda Brooks and Farmer Lodge. After the son was born the people in the village knew of this affair. Because Farmer Lodge was in the upper class and was male he did not suffer as much...
for his actions as Rhoda.
When Farmer Lodge marries Gertrude, Rhoda knows that he has truly made his desertion and never to be a part of her or her son’s lives “Yes mother” said the boy “Is father married then? “She had to bring up the child alone but was not ashamed as she told the son that Farmer Lodge was his father so he knew that both he and his mother had been abandoned by his father. “Tis hard for she” signifying the thin worn milkmaid aforesaid. “O, no…
. He hadn’t spoke to Rhoda Brook for years. ” Since the affair Rhoda had separated herself from the rest of the village and she was frequently gossiped about. Rhoda was also very poor as she had to bring up a son without any financial support from his father and only having a little income from only her milking the cows.The fact is known from the fact that her house is very basic and the boy’s shoes are very old and worn.
“And she looked at my boots, and said that they would not keep my feet dry if it came on wet, because they were so cracked” The boy explained that his boots were so worn that his feet would get wet if it rained. If Rhoda had more money it would be a necessity to buy a new pair of boots for her son but they don’t ever have enough money for essential things. Farmer Lodge also suffers for the affair but not in such a public way. When he is married his wife never produces a son as an heir to his land.
It could be
said that this is a judgement and fate has stopped him from having a son as he has already had a son that he ignores and does not support. A relationship that is a success between two people, one from the upper class and one from the lower class, is of Mr Twycott, a parson, and Sophy, his parlour maid till he married her. In these times the lower class always respected the upper class when in public. In ‘The Son’s Veto’ Sam Hobson, a lower class gardener, calls Sophy “Mrs Twycott”, even though they were good friends and knew each other well, when they meet again after she is married. I can’t come down easily, Sam, or I would! “..
.. “Well, Mrs Twycott” The opposite also applies when Sophy calls Sam only by his first name.This shows that the upper class valued the lower class as much lower than them in society which they were.
When the major rules of society were broken the person (or people) involved frequently moved away from the area to avoid confrontation and gossip from others who feel appalled by their behaviour. When Rhoda, in ‘The Withered Arm’, had an affair with Farmer Lodge she moved away to the edge of the parish boundaries. “Their course home lay apart from the others, to a lonely spot”Thomas Hardy purposely uses the word “apart” showing the extent of how she lives away from the others. He also constructs the phrase “lonely spot” which is also a description of how Rhoda feels being apart from the others and the fact that their house would be lonely because it also is alone and isolated. As mentioned before, Mr Twycott and Sophy married between their two classes in ‘The Son’s Veto’. Because they had committed ‘social suicide’ and caused disgrace to themselves they had to move away from the area to avoid the consequences of their inappropriate behaviour.
Mr Twycott knew perfectly well that he had committed social suicide….
An exchange of livings had been arranged…. abandoning their pretty home..
.. and their fine peal of bells for the wretchedest one-tongued clangour that ever tortured mortal ears. ” Even though Mr Twycott had caused endless shame upon himself he still married Sophy because he loved her and he found that this was more important to him. Another form of relationship between classes that people saw as unacceptable behaviour was different classes mixing as friends.
In ‘The Withered Arm’ Gertrude frequently met with Rhoda and had intermit conversations. “The conversation became quite confidential as regarded their powers and weaknesses; and when Mrs Lodge was leaving, Rhoda said, “I hope you will find the air agree with you, ma’am, and not suffer from the damp of the water-meeds. ” Gertrude would meet with Rhoda at her house or Rhoda would purposely walk to where Gertrude would pass. The fact that they had “confidential” conversations showed that they were trusting friends.
Gertrude was willing to go against the social conventions because both she and Rhoda were lonely and they were good company for each other. Also so Farmer Lodge and the other villagers would not know