The Class Game by Mary Casey

In this fascinating poem, The Class Game, the speaker challenges her audience to ponder the game they are playing. This game, she refers to as the class game. The Class Game is a game in which people look at a person, and try to guess what social class they come from based on their appearance. They try to guess where they might live, how they talk etc. The speaker refers to it as a “game” with heavy sarcasm in her voice, because she knows that it is not really a game at all. Rather, it is the harsh judgement that people use to critique others. The speaker’s ironic reference to this way of thinking as a game allows the readers to see how truly harmful this game is.

 

The Class Game Analysis

Lines 1-5

The speaker of the poem, which can be read in full here, begins with a challenging tone of voice, and the readers can immediately since her intent to call out certain people and challenge their way of thinking. She asks, “How can you tell what class I’m from” and then she describes some specifics about her attire that she believes others are using to guess her social class. She explains that she “can talk posh” which reveals her social status to others. She also explains that she wears a hat rather than a scarf, and that her clothes are second hand.

 

Lines 6-11

The speaker continues to challenge her audience, asking them why they “wince” when they hear her say things a certain way. For example, she says “Tara to me Ma” rather than the more proper way of saying, “Bye Mummy dear”. The speaker clearly wonders why it matters how she says goodbye to her mother, and why it should make people cringe to hear it. So she calls them out, asking them why they wince when she speaks. She asks again, “How can you tell what class I’m from?” and then continues to guess that perhaps they saw where she lives. Her home, she describes as “a corpy”. A “corpy” is an old term used by those who lived in Liverpool, England to describe what was known as a “council house” or a very inexpensive home that could be afforded by the working class. The speaker challenges her audience to really think about why they know what class she comes from. She is not denying that she talks in a certain way, dresses in second hand clothes, and lives in a cheap home. Her tone does not deny these things. However, it does challenge the hearers to think about why they cringe when they see the evidence of her social class. She challenges the hearers to question their own reasons for playing this “class game”.

 

Lines 12-15

Again, the speaker points out things about her that make her social class stand out. She asks her hearers if they know her social class because she happened to drop her unemployment card. Her distinctly asking whether she dropped in on their “patio” reveals that she does not have a patio…just a yard. Again, she asks her hearers how they can tell what class she is from. She feels that her social class is so obvious to passersby that she may as well have a label on her head and another on her “bum”. Her tone here begins to reveal the question she is really trying to ask her listeners. She knows that her speech and dress reveal her social class, but she questions why those small differences in appearance others see her so differently.

 

Lines 16-19

The speaker reiterates a few of the points she has already made. She questions the onlooker, asking if he or she knows her social class because of the oil stains on her hands. She points out that her hands are not “soft-lily white with perfume and oil” like the rich women surrounding her. She questions her audience whether they have guessed her social class based on the oil on her hands, or if it was they way she drank her tea, or if it was because she said “toilet” instead of “bog”. Either way, it is clear that the speaker knows her social class is obvious, and is only questioning people to ask why they must cringe and judge when they see the evidences of her place in society.

 

Lines 20-26

With these last few lines, the speaker finally comes right out and says what she has been implying all along – that her social class should not concern others. She asks, blatantly, “Why do you care what class I’m from?” Then, in a critical tone of voice, she asks, “Does it stick in your gullet, like a sour plum?” With this question, the reader can imagine the people to whom the speaker addresses this poem. They look as though they had just eaten something sour, and their glares make it clear that they have disdain for the speaker, though it should not matter to them what social class the speaker comes from. Then, the speaker says, “Well mate!” indicating that she is about to tell her spectators something important. She declares that her mother is a cleaner, and her brother is a dock worker. She declares that she will use slang words such as “wet nelly” and “belly”. Then, she adamantly declares, “And I’m proud of the class that I come from”.

The imagery used throughout The Class Game serves to contrast two different lifestyles that existed in Liverpool. There was the working class and the wealthier class. The speaker effectively contrasts both, pointing out that the only difference between these two kinds of people are details as small as certain words used, clothing worn, places dwelled in, and the appearance of their hands. These are all outward details and have nothing to do with the inward soul of a person. For this reason, the speaker’s questions to her critics become all the more powerful. Her questions are rhetorical, and they cause the reader to stop and ponder, what really makes one person different from another. The questions address those who are of the wealthy class- those who cringe when she speaks in slang and cast a critical eye on her second hand clothing. The type of people the speaker addresses clearly view themselves as different from her – different from the working class.

But the speaker’s questions effectively reveal that the only differences are that of outward appearance and material possession. Thus, the Class Game is irrelevant, and is a “game” that should not be played. Her questions make those onlookers who “wince” at her seem profoundly shallow and thoughtless. This is the speaker’s goal throughout the poem – to point out the foolishness of playing the Class Game. In the end, however, she does not care what other people think when she walks by. She is proud to be part of the working class.She is proud that her mother has worked hard and taught her the value of hard work. She is proud that her brother is a dock worker, and she is proud of everything about her class from the way she dresses to the way she speaks. Her final question to her critics asks them, “Why do you care what class I’m from?” This is the question that sticks in the mind of those who have criticized others for their social class, and it is the question the speaker wants to resound in the minds of her readers.

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