In this powerful feminist treatise, Woolf argues that patriarchal society deliberately subordinates the position of women and makes it impossible, or at best extremely difficult, for them to achieve equality and freedom. One of the ways in which these important themes of the oppression and repression of women is explored is through the imaginary exercise Woolf employs when she imagines what life would have been like for Shakespeare's sister, if such a woman had existed. Woolf, in an exercise of the imagination, wonders what the fate of a sister who was more intelligent than Shakespeare would have been, and the narration of the life of this fantastical figure proves what she states in her text:
It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare.
As her writing shows, this would not have been because of the lack of intelligence of women, but rather the profound lack of opportunity that they were given in the time of Shakespeare through a lack of education and the lack of opportunities and freedom. Such conditions, Woolf maintains, still exist to varying degrees in her day, and make it very difficult for women to write and achieve the fame they are capable of achieving. Society still oppresses women, Woolf argues, and this oppression is largely carried out by men.