A Question of Class

By Sandra Sylvester | Jan 07, 2013

Knox County — The return of Downton Abbey on PBS Sunday evening brings to mind the whole “class” system. Wasn’t it great seeing Shirley McClaine and Maggie Smith go at each other.  They brought 1920s societal differences between America and England to the fore in great style. The Labour Party in England claims that one’s birth is still the most important aspect of anyone’s life in Great Britain.

There is a great tongue-in-cheek site on the British class system at:


Some material is somewhat objectionable, so be forewarned. The British humor shines through however. They break down the class system in Great Britain: Middle, Lower, Working, Lower Middle, Middle-Middle, Upper-Middle, and Upper. Some of the material is hilarious. As this quote says, “The British are in a class of their own, old bean”—Noel Coward on British Class.

Maybe we don’t have a class system in America and maybe we do. It still seems to be a fact of life in our country that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

When I was growing up in the South End, we as kids weren’t aware of any class system in play in the area. Even among Southenders there were different sets of wealth and un-wealth. But like everywhere in the world, when a bunch of kids get together to play they don’t see differences such as race, socio-ecomonic status, intelligence level, and the like. If you wanted to play ball or other games you could always find a bunch of kids willing to join you.

Unfortunately, prejudice and “class differences” are learned. We are taught our place in the world by the adults who raise us; the adults we are exposed to in our daily lives. We in turn, just as unfortunately, may pass on that information to our own children.

Class systems can result in war; in rebellion; in drug and alcohol addiction; in personal depression and loss of hope for our own futures.

Were we as kids in the South End taught not to expect too much out of life; to not have any dreams for the future? I’m not so sure about that.  My mother always used to say, “Just do the best that you can.” As I’ve talked about before in this blog space, we have many leaders who have come out of the South End. We are all proud of them for being Southenders with the guts to follow their dreams.

As an adult coming back to Maine to visit I overheard a person who was not a Southender, say of an unkempt man sitting on a stool down at the Lobster Festival, “he must be a Southender.” That statement was followed by a scornful giggle. My friend and I, both former Southenders, who were helping out in this particular booth said, “Be careful of what you say. We are both from the South End ourselves.” Of course the guy tried to backtrack real fast, but it was too late.

From what I’ve seen of and read about the South End in recent years, I see a very different place from the one I grew up in. Of course all the fancy restaurants and shore development make a big difference.

Have the people changed too? I do still see some disadvantaged people on South End streets, but I’m also aware that we now have artists’ studios in the area. They may be a new “class” of Southenders who are still not privileged financially. The phrase “starving artist” comes to mind. I wish them well and hope the practice of having a special day to visit these studios continues.

My Own Bucket List for the Future

This Southender has her own dreams. Age has not diminished them. Last year I listed some things I wanted to do before I died. More travel to places like Hawaii and Australia. Attending a WNBA championship game. Moving back to Maine. Getting in touch with more friends from my past.  Attending the Rose Bowl Parade. Attending the Ellen Degeneris show. Being a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune at the same time that Nanci is a contestant on Jeopardy. She takes the test for the seventh time (which she always passes) this year. Crossing my fingers on that one.

I did get in touch with some old friends in the past year. Unfortunately, I found out my old friend, Hedi Bak has passed away. However, I have enjoyed a reconnection with an old college friend and later roommate, Luci Valiant Currier who lives in Florida. We hope to revisit Maine together including our old alma mater down east and eating in our old college restaurant, Helens.

I haven’t managed to cross anything else off my list yet, but I still dream about them.

One thing I have added to the list is finishing my second book. It’s close to being a first draft at this point. It will be a book of short stories with a South End flavor. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Never let your “class” hold you back. On the other hand, if we lived in a “classless” society not unlike that one in George Orwell’s book, 1984, what would we have to aspire to? Being a little poor, a little disadvantaged, can sometimes bring good things into your life later on. Those people who have struggles in their early lives often appreciate their lives more than those born with a silver spoon in their mouth. We all love good rags to riches stories after all, don’t we?

Follow your dreams…and thanks for listening.


Comments (3)
Posted by: Lawrence Butler | Jan 09, 2013 10:22


Thoroughly enjoyed your essay on a dreary day somewhere in Europe. Put many smiles on my face and renewed my bucket list goal of moving back to Maine.  Cheers!

Posted by: Sandra Sylvester | Jan 07, 2013 15:04

Thanks for your kind comments, Bill.


Posted by: William Pease | Jan 07, 2013 11:42

Thanks for this insightful essay on class and prejudice, Sandra. You're right. As that fine and moving song in SOUTH PACIFIC said: "You've got to be carefully taught!"-- this prejudice, by the adults who raised us, if we are so unfortunate, and by those we come in contact with later in life. It doesn't come with us naturally.

You've got a second book in the works! That's worth a grand Hooray! And "a book of short stories with a South End flavor" sounds just right. I'm looking forward to it. I've got to tell my old friend and RHS Class of 1952 classmate and fellow musician, Ted Strong (himself a Southender) about it if he doesn't know already.

And I hope both you and Nanci have a very happy new year. Follow your dreams-- I like that advice.

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