The Ruined Maid

by Thomas Hardy

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Themes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The major theme of this poem is that society often places women in untenable positions, especially when it comes to money. Amelia, the ruined girl of the poem, evidently comes from a background of abject poverty where she had inadequate clothing and shoes and had to work and dig in the dirt to find too little food for her own sustenance. Her life was miserable and bleak, and she appeared to have only a similar future to which she could look forward. She was virtuous then, but she was uneducated and destitute and hungry. Now that she has been "ruined" (either taking up as someone's mistress or becoming a prostitute), she is no longer considered virtuous by society, and, thus, her social value and worth have been diminished; however, she is clearly quite valued by someone (as she has earned money), and her moral ruin has provided her with pretty clothes and accessories, like feathers and bracelets and gloves. Not only is she now provided for, but she appears a great deal happier and more lively; she has evidently received something of an education (it has given her some "polish"), and so she looks and sounds more like a lady. Of course, her value in society's eyes has decreased because she is no longer virtuous, but being virtuous only seemed to result in hunger and pain because she was so poor. Amelia has traded financial ruin for moral ruin, and she seems a great deal happier as a result of her choice. While society may emphasize the importance of virtue, it did not serve Amelia well, and while society may discourage immorality, Amelia's life seems better for it. What's a woman to do? Amelia has made her choice, and it seems that the "raw country girl" to whom she speaks may ultimately make the same choice.

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