Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
In Mrs. Warren’s Profession, George Bernard Shaw set out to challenge the complacency of his audience and subvert some of their most ingrained notions. In his preface to the play, he said that it was written “to draw attention to the truth that prostitution is caused, not by female depravity and male licentiousness, but simply by underpaying, undervaluing, and overworking women so shamefully that the poorest of them are forced to resort to prostitution to keep body and soul together.” He argued that Mrs. Warren’s defense of herself was valid, although it was not meant to be a justification of the vice in which she was involved. In the play Shaw draws attention to the hypocrisy of a society in which a man like Crofts is considered respectable because no one of any breeding would be so indelicate as to inquire about the nature of his business activities. Shaw also suggests, through Mrs. Warren, that in a capitalist society that denies opportunities to women, even the relations between “respectable” women and their men are morally not very different from those between a prostitute and her client. All women are dependent on men in one way or another: A respectable upper-class girl must marry a rich man so that she can enjoy his wealth; the only difference between her and the working-class girl or the prostitute is that the latter cannot expect the men of means to marry them.
Another theme in the play is the emergence of the emancipated...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
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Poverty and Wealth
Shaw knew well the consequences of poverty in Victorian England, the hypocrisy of the wealthy, and the interdependence of the rich and poor. He writes in his ‘‘Apology,’’ ‘‘as long as poverty makes virtue hideous and the spare pocket-money of rich bachelordom makes vice dazzling, their daily hand-to-hand fight against prostitution . . . will be a losing one.’’ Mrs. Warren’s poverty forces her into prostitution, which wealthy men pay for. ‘‘Good’’ society rejects her but overlooks, as Crofts points out, the corruption involved in the upper class’s acquisition of its own wealth.
Oppression and Freedom
The play presents an ironic interplay of oppression and freedom. Mrs. Warren gains financial freedom and a measure of independence as she moves away from the oppression of her poverty by the exploitation of her sex, which reinforces society’s oppression of women. Shaw presents further irony in the fact that Vivie’s education has been bought by this oppression, which, when discovered, prompts her to leave her mother and so gain absolute independence.
The complexity of the two main characters creates a difficult mother/daughter relationship. Throughout most of the play, Vivie refuses to play the dutiful daughter along with any other conventional feminine role. Initially, she appears cold to a mother who spent little time with her...
(The entire section is 323 words.)