With close reference to the text you have studied, examine ways in which the writer presents characters in a sociological/historical context. Consider the changes in the structure and values of society and the position of women in society.
Women’s ability to determine their own future is a fairly new concept. Some feminist’s would argue that the extent of women’s freedom in the 21st century is still limited by the oppression of men. However studies of their lives and behaviours have always formed a large part of literature throughout history, despite it being male dominated and women either being idealised for their beauty, obedience and patience or demonised and blamed for misfortune of men. Nevertheless with the increased involvement of the writing and producing of literature and theatre by women, their perception and role on stage has evolved. This assignment will examine the ways in which the writer presents characters in a sociological/historical context in the play Top Girls. With close reference to the text it will consider the changes in the structure and values of society and the position of women in society.
(Dorney 2008) states that Top Girls was first performed at the Royal Theatre in London on the 28th August 1982. Churchill the female writer of the play was already an established writer for radio, stage and television. She had a good reputation for producing work that examined contemporary issues such as gender and sexuality, capitalism and the changing social relations in Britain in an interesting and provocative way. The all female cast of Top girls examines the place of women in the world in particular the workplace at the beginning of the 1980’s when conservative leader Margaret Thatcher had just become the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom a year earlier in 1979. Main character Marlene admires the values of individual ambition at the expense of others promoted by Thatcher, which is summed up by her telling her sister Joyce “I don’t believe in class. Anyone can do anything if they’ve got what it takes” (Churchill, C. 1991, pg.86)
“In the first act Churchill juxtaposes characters from different social backgrounds and historical eras in order to demonstrate the diversity of womankind.” (Dorney, K. 2008 pg. 53) Churchill offer’s no explanation as to how these historical and fictional women are able to gather together and leads the audience to speculate on what is exactly going on and to come to terms with the fact that the play will not be in the realist tradition and non-naturalistic due to it being impossible for deceased women from various eras socialising together, although it is naturalistic due to it dealing with realistic issues women face. The audience must also get used to the innovative presentation of overlapping dialogue. Which gives the play a very realistic feel and the conversation between the women weaves up and down and fast and slow like a piece of orchestrated music that reaches climaxes with all the women talking over each other and laughing and then comes crashing down with dramatic pauses for example when Joan states “They took me by my feet and dragged me out of town and stoned me to death” (Churchill, C. 1991. pg.17).
The historical figures in Act 1 provide an overview of the struggle against traditional notions of femininity, marriage and motherhood, themes that run throughout the play. It seems that Marlene is the latest in a long line of women to have achieved a degree of success or personal fulfilment. Marlene reinforces this idea with her toast “we’ve all come along way. To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements” (Churchill, C. 1991.pg.13). The arrival of Patient Griselda sets in motion a change in the flow of the dinner party. Her tale of obedience to her husband and her commitment to “always obey him in everything” (Churchill, C. 1991. pg.21)