Objectification in An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard
In "An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard," Gray symbolizes the objectification of the poor as well as the commodification of nature. In doing this, Gray arranges a hierarchy of objectification within the poem. The hierarchical arrangement begins with nature and continues through the poor with the upper class at the apex of the "pyramid." Gray uses the recurring images of nature to illustrate this organization of classes. To accomplish this arrangement, he shifts the focus from nature to the poor through these images. Finally, in "An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard," death of the poor is the only hope for both nature and the peasants to obtain freedom. In other words, by dying, the poor are no longer objectified by the upper class and nature is no longer objectified by the poor. In his "Elegy," Gray symbolizes the objectification of the poor and nature through a hierarchical arrangement and states that death is the only means by which they can both be free.
First, Gray uses images of nature to show the pyramid of power and control in society. Through the imagery of the poem, Gray illustrates the ownership of the land and the poor. They are commodities of the wealthy, land owning members of the upper class. Gray writes "Oft did the Harvest to their Sickle Yield/ Their Furrow oft the stubborn Glebe has broke;/How bowed the Woods beneath their sturdy Stroke!"(lines 25-26, 28). These lines not only symbolize the commodification of nature but also of the lower classes. The image of the woods bowing to the poor shows the control the peasants have over nature. The breaking of the land by the sickle also demonstrates the physical might and domination the poor have over the land. Gray uses the images of the poor working in the fields to gather the harvest to show the control the upper class have over the poor. In eighteenth century society, the wealthy, land-owning citizens often hired peasants to cultivate their land. Therefore, those who are working in the fields are doing so as a matter of survival. The fact that the lower class citizens harvest the land for the well-to-do citizens demonstrates their enslavement and objectification by the wealthy in society. The poor have become objects or possessions of the rich. Through the imagery of the poem, Gray has immediately established a hierarchical arrangement in his poem.
Another image that Gray uses to illustrate possession in the poem is that of water. Rather than symbolizing life and purity, water instead symbolizes the burden of the poor as well as that of nature. Gray writes, "The dark unfathomed Caves of Ocean bear/The struggling Pangs of unconscious Truth to hide/ To quench the Blushes of ingenuous Shame,…."(lines 54, 69-70). The land must "bear" or carry not only the sins of the people but also the consequences of those sins. However, it is important to realize that these sins are not purposefully committed....