Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Of the forty-four women’s roles in The Women (no men appear onstage), Broadway critics focused on those of the upper-class characters. Critics often still assume that the play attacks women in general, despite Clare Boothe Luce’s repeated insistence that she intended to attack only self-obsessed, parasitic women of wealth, such as Sylvia and Edith, who demand perpetual pleasure and romance and disclaim any form of responsibility. Even Mary Haines, who has found satisfaction in her roles as wife and mother, abandons her values when she is swayed by the opinions of her peers. When she confronts Stephen, both she and Stephen speak in the trite language of magazine fiction and Hollywood films. Neither wants a divorce: Both merely behave in the way their world expects.
The object of Luce’s satire is made clear through the minor characters, who comment, in increasingly strident voices, on the stupidity of their social betters. They variously express contempt, bitterness, resignation, wry amusement, and anger. Maggie, Mary’s cook, for example, talks about marriage as family centered, not pleasure centered. The nurse in Edith’s hospital room explodes at Edith’s complaints, contrasting her easy delivery with those of poor women who deliver without comfort and return immediately to work. Two women from Stephen’s office visit Mary on business and, left alone, bitterly describe what single life is like on a woman’s wages, at that time...
(The entire section is 462 words.)
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