What is a “hard hat?” The “colonel” that Maria sits beside on the tram is described as wearing a hard hat. I’m reasonably sure that it’s not referring to a construction hard hat, but what?
What is “the dummy?” He/she helps serve, but why “dummy?” I looked it up in the OED, and the closest definition that I could come up with was something like “someone acting in place of another,” but I don’t recall the exact words.
It’s been two decades since I had this story in class, so I’m a little fuzzy on it.
I took the “hard hat” to mean a more proper hat than a slouch hat, hence more of a gentleman. A hat that held its shape (particularly as he tipped it to Maria as she got off the bus).
Dummy–I can only guess at this from the context. It once (and may still) had a theatrical meaning–a sham character. (Filler? An unexploded bomb?) I think it was used ironically to point out that Maria is the dummy, with a small body that she’s occasionally decorated, but basically she’s empty.
This wasn’t the mystery of the story for me, though. The mystery was–was clay part of the game, or was it just a bad joke on Maria?
Re: Dummy- the word is used twice in Clay “Ginger Mooney was always saying what she-wouldn’t do to the dummy who had charge of the irons if it wasn’t for Maria” and when said “dummy” clears the table. I’m guessing here, but I think it refers to either a particularly helpless fellow servant, or a mute fellow servant.
The clay, however…a dish of clay was present in the game as played by the lower classes. Looming death is a fact of life, as it were. The clay, however, was not in the original plans for this gathering. Anyone of a higher social class (or aspiring to such) would not have used the dish of clay, but the more genteel prayer-book that indicates a life spent in religion (spinsterhood, rather than just the grave) which Maria gets the second time.
It’s a bad joke, perhaps been played by the children and not noticed until too late. Or, reveals that the family is not quite as classy as they would like and hasn’t thought out all the implications of having the dish there (ie. for anyone else it would have been a joke, but for poor Maria…)
And as an add on, since I was just reading about the Orange Order- the idea about the hard hats was correct (in my case, they just happened to be little black bowlers).