Social Stratification in Literature essay

Literary works are not just mere expressions of the thoughts and feelings of authors. Instead, these works largely resemble historical narratives, embedding prevalent issues from its period of creation. More than often literary works document culture and other important themes in the society. Social stratification is one of these. Social stratification has been one of the most prevalent issues from time immemorial. As a result, inequality between social classes has been the subject of thousands of prose, poems, and stories.

Various forms and implications of social stratification is revealed in many literary works and more than often, conflicts in the story best revolve around clashes between the rich and the poor. In fact, rarely are there stories that do not reflect social strata in one way or another. As social stratification is shown in literary works, it can be noted that it is usually established through the interaction of the characters in the story. However, although social stratification may be exhibited through narrated communal relations presented in a literature, it is often best demonstrated through the formation of a character’s social self.

This social self refers to one’s definition or own interpretation of his social status as expressed in his monologues and dialogues. To address this issue, this paper examines three notable literary pieces – My Last Duchess of Robert Browning, The Queen of Spades of Alexander Pushkin, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. As such, this research is an attempt to demonstrate how social stratification is exhibited not just in the relationships and social interaction narrated in the stories but instead through the construction of the social self of the character.

More specifically, this paper aims to determine how exactly some characters in the story address their social status through their dialogues and monologues. My Last Duchess In “My Last Duchess”, the poem presents a dramatic monologue of the Duke. Throughout the poem, the Duke shifts invariable from his own appreciation of art to his disgust of the subject of the portrait – his last duchess who eventually died early. In the poem, the Duke describes how he is very fond of his late wife but at the same time, much disgusted of her behavior. Throughout his ramblings, one can also gain knowledge of how he constructs his social self.

A prevalent example is when he describes the Duchess’ source of happiness: “The dropping of the daylight in the West, the bough of cherries some officious fool broke in the orchard for her, the white mule she rode with round the terrace–all and each would draw from her alike the approving speech, or blush, at least. She thanked men– good! But thanked somehow– I know not how–as if she ranked my gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name with anybody’s gift. ” (Browning) In the said lines, the Duke emphasizes the differences in the values of the gifts based on social stratification.

Basically, he implies that the other things – the natural objects such as the cherries, mule, etc – which gave joy to the Duchess cannot be regarded as something as valuable as what he has provided his wife – that is, his name; the social status of being a royalty. For him, the same appreciation that he and other people received from his duchess lowered his assumed regal status that is why he has decided to end the seemingly socially degrading scenario by killing his wife: “–E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, whene’er I passed her; but who passed without much the same smile?

This grew; I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together. ” (Browning) The Queen of Spades In the Queen of Spades, social stratification is best exhibited between the dialogue of Lizaveta Ivanovna and her benefactress, the Countess Anna Fedotovna. “Order the carriage, Lizaveta,” said she (The Countess A); “we will go out for a drive. ” Lizaveta arose from the frame and began to arrange her work. “What is the matter with you, my child, are you deaf? ” cried the Countess. “Order the carriage to be got ready at once. ” “I will do so this moment,” replied the young lady, hastening into the ante-room.

(Pushkin, 1834) In this dialogue, one can fairly assess that the countess fervently speaks with utmost authority and power over her maid. She orders her and demands that she responds at once for she is well aware that Lizaveta belonged to a lower social strata and that of hers is much higher. As for Lizaveta, the poor young lady could not do anything but to respond to her countess with utmost politeness. Although she is well aware that the countess’ treatment is of cruelty and spite, her awareness of her social status demands that she does nothing but to tolerate and endure the harshness that she receives.

Furthermore, upon being ridiculed because of the weather and after dressing up so quickly for a ride that will no longer commence, Lizaveta could do nothing but to lament on the fact that her life is as is. She cannot do anything about the countess’ raving behavior because she holds no authority to do so. “You never think of what you are talking about. Open the window. So it is: windy and bitterly cold. Unharness the horses. Lizaveta, we won’t go out–there was no need for you to deck yourself like that. ” (said the Countess) “What a life is mine! ” thought Lizaveta Ivanovna. (Pushkin, 1834)

Wuthering Heights In Wuthering Heights, the conflicts of social stratification are best show through the relationships formed between the people living in Thrushcross Grange and the Wuthering Heights. Although the Lintons living in the Thrushcross Grange and the Earnshaws in Wuthering Heights both enjoy the same gentry status, the primary difference between the two families was the fact that the former persistently and insistently tried hard to prove their rank whereas the latter would rather enjoy what they have and live freely regardless of their adherence to their expected social behavior.

A primary proof of this delineation was that the Earnshaws took in Healthcliff, an orphan of a lower social status while the Lintons drove him away even in the middle of the night. The conflict on social stratification intensifies in Catherine Earnshaw – the object of desire of both Healthcliff and Edgar Linton. At first, Catherine lived a wild life at the Wuthering Heights as she often ran into the moors with HealthCliff. However, as she becomes exposed to the Lintons and the life at the Grange, she then decides to pursue the luxury and regality of being among the gentry.

Furthermore, although she loved Healthcliff, she chooses Edgar over him: “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire. ” (Bronte, 1974) Through these lines, it is implied that Catherine rejects Healthcliff simply because she feels that it is degrading to accept him. However, her decision does not stem from her realization that she is more superior to Healthcliff.

Rather, she thinks that she and Healthcliff share the same status. So, in order to elevate her status, she marries someone she deems higher – one of the Lintons. Conclusions In the three literary pieces, readers can clearly get a glimpse of the social stratification among the characters not merely through the narration of the characters’ economic backgrounds or the narrated interactions between the. Instead, social stratification is best understood through the character’s own interpretation of his social status as expressed in his monologues and dialogues.

Such is in line with what Gagne and Fleishman noted in the book, “Psychology and Human Performance”: “The important thing about social strata is that people identify themselves and others with certain social classes, and this identification influences their behavior and attitude”, (Gagne and Fleishman, 1959 p. 301). As a result, it only follows that the construction of a social self is basically more determining of one’s realization of social stratification than his/ her societal interactions.


Bronte, Emily (1974). Wuthering Heights. New York: Bantam Books Browning, Robert (n. d. ) My Last Duchess. Published on Mason website. (Retrieved 9 Apr 2009 from http://mason. gmu. edu/~lsmithg/275duchess. htm) Fleishman, Edwin, and Gagne, Robert (1959). Psychology and Human Performance. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. , 1959. Pushkin, Alexander (1834). Published in the Classic Reader website. (Retrieved 9 Apr 2009 from http://www. classicreader. com/author/223/)