Exoticism of the Lower Class through Wordsworth’s “We are Seven”

The Romantic era sought beauty in the natural world as a way of responding to the industrial boom that modernized the western world. However, it did not only mean that people were focused on looking toward the horizon for beauty, or searching for the meaning of life in a mountain range, it also meant that literature, art and beauty would be more democratic. It meant that there was a complexity to the lives of the poor working class, and they too were able to express themselves poetically. With that being said, William Wordsworth is one of the pioneers who tried to incorporate the connection poor people had to the world. In his poem, “We Are Seven” there are class markers that the speaker of the poem identifies in the first stanza that mark the subjects of the poem, and even exoticizes them. The first line of the poem sets the tone by beginning with “A simple child” and this signals images in the reader’s imagination immediately about how to understand the family and domestic quality in the poem. Another class marker is when the speaker describes the the little “cottage girl” in stanza two, and these markers help to put into perspective how the cryptic moments in the poem are inherently tied to the class status of the family.  The little girl seems to be confused about what the title of the poem suggests, which is that she believes there are seven people in her household when in fact some of the members have actually died. The speaker of the poem seems to be conflicted about the “cottage” girl’s blissful ignorance because of her “simple” way of understanding the world–which seems to exclude the idea of passing away.

The painting by David Caspar Friedrich, “The Abbey in the Oakwood” is a romantic era painting that embodies the idea of nature vs civilization, but it is also the negotiation between these two concepts in a coexisting manner. This reminds me of how the little girl says “two of us in the church-yard lie” in stanza six when she is referring to their grave sites, which are described as being “green” in stanza ten. This seems to be a deliberate way of assigning a lively color like green to a gravesite, which is obviously to keep the dead. There seems to be a duality here that is much like the painting where wee see a dead trees and an incomplete building because it has been abandoned. However, we still get the natural world working–the painting gives it life as a way of accepting the passing of things a part of the circularity. Although the painting is a little more cryptic, it definitely parallels the poem on how death seems to be in constant movement with nature, and ultimately man.

This duality of death and life looks kind of cryptic when it is attributed to the status of the poor. This could have something to do with the idea of not having tombstones adorned like aristocratic people did, as Wordsworth has alluded to in another poem, but it also has to do with the way in which the Romantics like Wordsworth and Coleridge looked to democratize the poor in conversation with the mainstream. In other words, they tried to de-marginalize the poor by including them in the center of their works. It is actually pretty marxist of them to do so, but it is also shows the gaze that is inevitable when people who do not belong to the working-class try to speak for them. To attribute death and its circularity to the working class shows more about Wordsworth’s gaze, than it might about poor working class people. The painting by Friedrich demonstrates a sort of othering that is attributed to these forgotten or “abandoned” people, as I have mentioned. By looking at this painting, it could be said that Wordworth looked at poor people in this way; he might have found them to be deserving of being brought into the mainstream of culture, but in a way he is also not one of them so he, in effect, has also exoticized them. romantic image 2

Cesar R

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15 thoughts on “Exoticism of the Lower Class through Wordsworth’s “We are Seven”

  1. Pingback: In-class blog comments | English Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century (1660-1837) Gone Global

  2. The original Idea is the background information you provided that includes the modernization if the western world. I believe that including background information is very helpful what you can do to improve the post would be to include a painting and relate it to “We are seven” which you did state you would incorporate. Good start !

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  3. I liked your incorporation of exoticism, and how this became a catalyst to the industrial boom during the romantic era. The romantic era sought to give vitality and emotion in a period where industry and capital was prioritized instead. Once you incorporate the painting, and become more specific how this intertwines then I believe you will have a solid argument here. –Jessica Mijares

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  4. The undertone of class within “We are Seven” was explained by Cesar in that, “there was a complexity to the lives of the poor working class, and they too were able to express themselves poetically.” This idea will be most interesting to see unfold, seeing as how Romanticism moved away from materialism but at what cost? Cesar hints at the efforts of Wordsworth to try and identify with lower classes but keeping in mind he doesn’t exactly come from the lower classes himself. With some more evidence and analysis, I think Cesar can make the case for the relationship of class within the poem in relation to the painting. -Daniel Corral

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  5. I would say that the most original idea would be the way that Wordsworth idolizes the individuals. I don’t see any need to improve the interpretation of the poem

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  6. The most original idea of Cesar’s post is that the foreshadowing of industrialization and economic expansion is a humanizing, empathetic foray into subjugated psychology. I wonder, though, how are these ideas romantic? Is this Romantic painting fetishizing a forgotten time with an idyllic gaze? Cesar might be able to present some criticisms of the Romantic idealization, reading against the grain of the text. Obviously, in text citations and line numbers are needed, surely to be added later. Great work!

    Nathaniel S

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  7. I thought it was interesting that you talked about class status and politics in your blog post. I would like to read more about what you mean by literature, art, and poetry being more democratic. What is your definition of democratic? Maybe also how the mood or tone of the poem conveys this exoticism of the lower class.

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  8. The working class idea is the most original and tying it in with the picture is going to be unique. This post was easy to follow and understand. Close reading was well done, looking forward to seeing the completed post. -Dario

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  9. I like how you brought up the aspect about class, because I completely missed that. I thought that the poem focused more on how the man believed the girl did not know anything about death, but near the end it seems that she knows more about death and life than the old man. She understands that things change and continues to live happily while adapting to the changes. Hopefully this will help support your blog in some way. Perhaps there is a class difference between the man and girl because in one line she replies to him, “O master! we are seven.”

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  10. I’m unsure how calling a girl simple is related to class at all.. perhaps there is similarity but that and the other quote, I think, don’t necessarily constitute proper evidence that they are related on class and just looking at the painting I am unsure how you drew that conclusion. Would be interested to hear more of your reasoning.

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  11. Could it be that people did not start appreciating the beauty of the environment around them until it started getting polluted by the coal and other nasty things the industrial revolution brought? I do sincerely enjoy the way the working class is acknowledged and represented. Though words as “simple” and “little” are not flattering, it does give some representation to a once mute class. Also, there is readable material now being published that is written extremely well.

    -Daniel Estrada

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  12. I find it interesting you say that Romantic poetry exoticised the lower class. The word exoticize as I understand it has a negative connotation. I’m not only interested to see how you relate class in “we are seven” to the painting but also also am curious to know what you think about idea presented in our lecture notes about how romantic poetry did not use the language of the lower class as it claimed to have.

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  13. I am really interested in how you will tie this into one of the paintings! Your blog post is original in the fact that it aims to discuss classism, which I tend overlook when reading Romantic poetry. I think you have really good ideas in the works and all you really need to do is finish it. The only thing I can think of to improve is that you suggest using the abbey painting because it looks all run down and abandoned like no one of a high status would be there.

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  14. The most original idea in this blog post is “This duality of death and life looks kind of cryptic when it is attributed to the status of the poor.” I find it interesting you explored what death means for other classes. To make this blog post stronger I suggest choosing quotes from We Are Seven that have a little more substance. The quotes you used were great but I think the reader, assuming they have never read the poem, would benefit from greater contexts.

    Extra Credit 6/10

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