The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The first act of this two-act play, presented in seven scenes, shows the destruction of Mary Haines’s marriage. When the curtain opens, Mary is absent. Four women sit playing bridge, smoking and gossiping as Sylvia Fowler complains about her husband. He expects her to stay home and keep house despite their wealth and servants. The other players include the young Peggy; Nancy, a writer; and Edith, a colorless and sloppy woman unhappily pregnant. When Edith leaves the room, Sylvia tells the others of Edith’s husband’s unfaithfulness. Sylvia has also heard that Stephen Haines has a mistress. By the end of the scene, Sylvia plans to take Mary to the beauty shop, where Mary will hear about her husband. The second scene takes place in that shop. Nancy, a professional woman whose next book, she later suggests, will be titled Gone with the Ice-Man or Sex Has No Place in the Home, tries to convince Mary that appearance does not matter if a man loves a woman, but Mary accepts the superficial values of her other friends. She stays, and a manicurist, making conversation, reveals Stephen’s affair with Crystal Allen. In the third scene, in Mary’s sitting room, her mother, Mrs. Morehead, tries to persuade her to ignore the affair. Mrs. Morehead whisks her daughter off to Bermuda.
In the fourth scene, two months later, Mary has returned and meets Crystal in a dressmaker’s shop. Sylvia, upset by Mary’s acceptance of the situation, hints...
(The entire section is 921 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Luce was an admirer of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, even visiting Shaw at his home in England. Shaw’s Candida: A Mystery (pr. 1897, pb. 1898) was among her favorite plays, and Mary, in her warmth, home-centered values, and sympathy for others, strongly resembles Shaw’s heroine. While Candida’s marriage is threatened by a young artist who wants to save the heroine from the boring life of middle-class marriage, in Luce’s play the enemies of marriage are more impersonal. Sylvia, Edith, and Crystal resemble the figures of a medieval morality play. Sylvia embodies the traditional sin of envy: Discontented with herself, her husband, and her life, she enviously tries to destroy the happiness of others. Edith is a figure for laziness, traditionally called sloth: Her unwanted pregnancies, her inadvertent talk with the gossip columnist, and her sloppy appearance and behavior betray a person who cannot exert herself to care about others. Crystal embodies greed. The helpless anger of the poor is made understandable through many of the minor characters, but Crystal wants more than just survival; she wants wealth, pleasure, lovers, and to see the last of Little Mary. The minor characters who share their hardships and misery constitute a traditional dramatic chorus.
(The entire section is 204 words.)
The Great Depression
In the fall of 1929, the United States economy was devastated by a collapse of the stock market. Now known as the Stock Market Crash of 1929, these events plunged the United States, and eventually many nations throughout the world, into a devastating economic crisis that lasted until the beginning of World War II in 1939. This roughly ten-year period is known as the Great Depression. As a result of the collapse of the economy during the Great Depression, many people were out of work, lost their homes, and lived in abject poverty. Unemployment rates reached as high as 25–30 percent of the employable workforce. In the realm of international economy, the levels of world trade were reduced by more than half their previous volume.
Political measures to address the problems of the Great Depression in the United States were dominated by the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who began his first term in 1933. Roosevelt initiated a wide variety of government programs in an effort to relieve the burden of poverty, raise the employment rate, and stimulate the economy. Roosevelt’s domestic program for addressing the Great Depression is known as the New Deal. The crucial first few months of Roosevelt’s institution of the New Deal are known as the Hundred Days.
The Women was originally produced in 1936, during the heart of the Great Depression. In this play, Luce emphasizes the stark differences...
(The entire section is 780 words.)
The Women is set in both New York City and Reno, Nevada, in locations frequented primarily by women. The settings in New York include a beauty salon, the dressing rooms of a women’s clothing store, Mary’s bedroom, and Crystal’s bathroom. A number of scenes are also set in the Park Avenue apartments of wealthy society women and their families. In these settings, Luce emphasizes the luxury and comfort enjoyed by these married women, who have servants to wait on them hand and foot. All of these settings also characterize the fact that most of the central characters in The Women do not have to work, and so they have a lot of free time to spend in shopping, getting manicures, and playing bridge.
At the time of its original production, The Women was a hugely popular success as a Broadway comedy. The play is considered a social satire, or comedy of manners, in that it ridicules the foibles of upper-class society, particularly in the realm of male-female relationships. Luce has said that the women she portrayed in The Women represented the type of women she met in high society, whom she despised. Many of the characters in the play have exaggerated traits of selfishness, shallowness, and self-centeredness that make them objects of ridicule in the eyes of the audience. Luce’s stinging comedic dialogue further captures the atmosphere of competition and selfishness among the central...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1930s: The United States is in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in the history of the nation. Unemployment is at an all-time high.
Today: While the economy fluctuates greatly, many regulations work to ensure that an economic collapse such as that which caused the Great Depression is not repeated. While unemployment rates also fluctuate, they do not reach the devastating levels of the Great Depression era.
1930s: Divorce laws, which vary widely from state to state, result in the development of Reno, Nevada, as a locus where people from all over the country come to obtain divorces.
Today: While divorce laws still vary from state to state, an overall liberalization of divorce laws makes it easier for couples to obtain divorces within their home states.
1930s: Women’s opportunities for earning an independent living through professional endeavors are limited by a male-dominated work world. Because of limited job opportunities, most women are dependent on their husbands for economic support.
Today: Women’s professional opportunities are greatly increased, allowing women to pursue any profession a man can with reasonable hope for success. Many women earn enough to enjoy complete economic independence.
(The entire section is 195 words.)
Topics for Further Study
The Women was originally written, produced, and set during the era of the Great Depression. Learn more about the history of the depression and its impact on the everyday lives of Americans. In what ways were women and men affected differently by the hardships of the depression? How were women in different regions of the United States affected differently by the depression? To what extent did the depression affect the wealthier segments of society?
The Women focuses on a wide variety of procedures women go through in their efforts to look attractive. Different cultures often have very different standards of beauty. Find out more about the beauty standards of a culture very different from your own. Write an essay comparing the beauty standards of your own culture with those of the culture you have researched. What insights does this provide into the role and significance of beauty standards to each culture?
All of the characters in The Women who appear on stage are female, and the events of the play take place in locations that tend to be exclusively or predominantly female. Yet, these women spend most of their time discussing their relationships with men. Write a short play that describes a conversation between three or four of the characters of the same gender (all male or all female) in a setting were members of that gender tend to congregate. Focus on the particular ways in which these characters interact with one...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
The Women was adapted to the screen as a major motion picture in 1939. This film version was directed by George Cukor and starred Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell. It was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer from a screenplay written by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin.
(The entire section is 45 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1938) was one of Luce’s most successful plays. This farcical comedy concerns the antics of a Hollywood producer in the process of recruiting a star for his upcoming movie.
Margin for Error (1939), another of Luce’s most successful plays, is a satirical detective story about a German consul who is suspected of murder.
Europe in the Spring (1940) is a personal memoir of Luce’s experiences as a journalist in the early years of World War II.
Luce’s plays have been compared to those of the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Wasserstein’s comedy Uncommon Women and Others (1977) concerns five women who meet for lunch and reminisce about events from their college years.
Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce (1997), by Sylvia Jukes Morris, provides a critical biography of Luce, focusing on her ambitious personality and her various professional and political successes.
Clare Boothe Luce: A Research and Production Sourcebook (1995), by Mark Fearnow, provides an overview of Luce’s life and career, a detailed plot summary of her major works and their critical reception, and an annotated bibliography.
(The entire section is 185 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Blanchard, Jayne, ‘‘Conniving World of Women,’’ in Washington Times, February 7, 1999, p. D3.
Boothe, Clare, ‘‘Foreword,’’ in The Women, Random House, 1937, pp. vii-xiv.
———, ‘‘The Women’’: Newly Revised by the Author, Dramatists Play Service, 1966.
Byrne, Terry, ‘‘Stage on Screen: The Women,’’ in Boston Herald, June 22, 2002, p. 17.
Gardner, Elysa, ‘‘Women: Fresh, Funny, and Feline,’’ in USA Today, November 9, 2001, p. 3E.
Gates, Anita, ‘‘What Is It about The Women?’’ in New York Times, June 16, 2002, Sect. 13, p. 4.
Maddock, Mary, ‘‘Social Darwinism in the Powder Room: Clare Boothe’s The Women,’’ in Journal of American Drama and Theatre, Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1990, pp. 81–97.
Winn, Steven, ‘‘The Women without Their Men,’’ in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 25, 1992, p. C5.
Dubofsky, Melvyn, and Stephen Burwood, eds., Women and Minorities during the Great Depression, Garland, 1990. Dubofsky and Burwood have compiled a collection of essays by various authors discussing the impact of the Great Depression on women as well as on African Americans and other minorities.
Gimlin, Debra L., Body Work: Beauty and Self-image in American Culture,...
(The entire section is 329 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Fearnow, Mark. Clare Boothe Luce: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.
Lyons, Joseph. Clare Boothe Luce. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.
Martin, Ralph G. Henry and Clare: An Intimate Portrait of the Luces. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1991.
Morris, Sylvia Jukes. Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Boothe Luce. New York: Random House, 1997.
Shadegg, Stephen. Clare Boothe Luce: A Biography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.
Weintraub, Rodelle, ed. “The Gift of Imagination: An Interview with Clare Boothe Luce.” In Fabian Feminist: Bernard Shaw and Women. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977.
(The entire section is 98 words.)