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There is an example of Madam Lockton's cruelty early on in the narrative. When Madam Lockton's belongings are being searched in public, Ruth and Isabel find the awkwardness of the moment as humorous. Isabel is smart enough to remain silent, but Ruth laughs aloud. When she takes responsibility for her sister, there is deliberate cruelty in how Madam hits Isabel hard enough to cause her to stagger under the force of the blow. One can argue that this scene represents much in way of meanness on a couple of levels. There is the public humiliation of being hit by someone in the position of power, almost to reaffirm one's own degraded state. Madam Lockton takes advantage of this in a public manner. The hit itself is cruel, for Isabel is only a child herself. She wishes for so much more than what is. Comforted only by the idea that it was better for her to be hit than her sister, one sees how mean of an action it actually was. She is hit for something that is not her own fault and she is left without any recourse. She cannot speak. She cannot retaliate for the social condition that maligns her is as mean as Madam Lockton. In the final analysis, this particular moment confirms both her meanness to Isabel and the meanness in the social condition that allows such an act of brutality to happen.
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