Hortense vs. Society

June 21, 2018 Teaching

The way she perceives her social status, as a child, is what influences all of her actions throughout her life. It isn’t until Hortense leaves her familiar world that she begins to see society is not interested in her upbringing, but on the color of her skin. While Hortense views herself as an educated and elegant woman, society places her amongst the lower class. Growing up in Jamaica, Hortense is told that the father she never knew was a very important man whom everyone respected and admired. “My father was a man of class. A man of character. A man of intelligence.

Noble in a way that made him a legend” (31). In reality, Hortense was likely born out of wedlock and was being taken care of by her mother and grandmother. She was later raised by a family in exchange for her grandmother’s freedom and was told the family was related to her father. Unaware that her father was a white man, Hortense also views herself as a higher class of darker skin, stating numerous times, “My completion was as light as [my father’s]; the colour of warm honey” (32). Her false view of her father and herself is what distances her self-image with who society sees.

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As she gets older, she decides to get an education to become a teacher and pushes herself higher above the average citizen. Hortense believes she deserves the best, so when she finally arrives in England in her white gloves and large suitcase, she can’t believe the run-down, single room apartment that Gilbert has been working so hard to build a new life with. From the moment Hortense sets foot onto English soil, she is immediately given a taste of the new life she will be living. An Englishwoman approaches her and says, “ Have you seen Sugar?

She’s one of you. She’s coming to be my nanny and I am a little later than I thought. You must know her. Sugar” (12). Strangely enough, Hortense is so convinced of her own place society, she never picks up on the prejudice this woman has against her and the Jamaicans coming off the boat. Not only does the woman state that Sugar is her nanny, she assumes that, because they are of the same ethnicity, Hortense knows her. When Gilbert never shows to pick her up, Hortense finds her way to their new home in Queenie’s house. Hortense cannot believe the place.

Her entire life, England was a place of class and elegance and the room that Gillbert has gotten them is worse than what she had back in Jamaica. After arguing with Gilbert, he storms out, but not before telling her, “…little Miss High-Class, one thing about England you don’t know yet because you just come off the boat. You are lucky” (27). Later on, Queenie attempts to befriend Hortense and bring her out shopping. Hortense views herself above Queenie and cannot understand how Queenie has the nerve to talk down to her.

Hortense carries this attitude around with her until she applies for a teaching position in England. Walking in to the office, she has no doubt that the department of education will be thankful to have such and clean, educated woman to hire. Hortense hands her application to the woman at the desk who doesn’t even consider reading it. Hortense is a black woman, educated in Jamaica and therefore is not qualified for a teaching position in this new country. After she attempts to leave the office, Hortense accidently enters the closet and is laughed at while she exits.

Once Hortense finally sees how harsh society is on their skin color, she finally begins to respect Gilbert as a hardworking man who is providing for the both of them. Suddenly, everything she has in the mother country is seen as a great privilege. Growing up in Jamaica, Hortense was given a false view of herself and her place in the world. Between the lies she was told about her father and the family she was raised in, Hortense believed she was of a high social class. Moving to England, Hortense began to see things for what they are and learned to appreciate everything she was given.


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