Feminist Reading of Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
While Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" overtly deals with the distinction between social class and the opportunity for greatness, the poem also contains a subtle yet strong message against the dominant role of men over women in society. Gray's tone throughout the poem is permeated with regret and a sense of something lost, voicing his opinions clearly against social class prejudice. This emotional tone, when applied to the stereotypical roles of differing sexes discussed throughout the poem, portrays the injustice of inequality between males and females.
Gray begins with his argument by explaining the roles of women and men, both in lower class families and in the noble houses, focusing on their submissive roles. "The busy housewife [plies] her evening care," minding the children until "their sire's return" from a hard day of work (lines 22-23). Gray depicts the work of a lower class male as a ploughman, working from morning until night at his useful toil, without ambition and with, at best, obscure possibilities for the future.
The social distinction between the classes is easily seen as Gray then depicts the positions of upper class men and women. Gray describes the upper class male as having the opportunity for greatness. Without the limitations of lower class men, these nobles can become another Hampden, Milton or Cromwell. In contrast, Gray briefly describes upper class women as only being able to use their beauty or wealth to advantage, perhaps in order to attract a good husband (line 34).
A further distinction is drawn between men and women when Gray speaks about positions of authority and leadership. He expressed the the idea of men's superiority in...