What kind of structures have been at play in this world? Have those structures been rigid or flexible? In Noël Coward’s play Private Lives, do one or more characters challenge these structures?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Society has always had very rigorous structures, and those structures were especially strict in times past. It has been believed that women had their roles as nurturers of home and family life and as subordinates. In contrast, it has been believed that men had their roles as protectors, providers, and as superiors. It has also been believed that religion and morality had their dominant roles in society. However, Noël Coward wrote private lives in 1930, a time when social foundations had been greatly shaken by World War I (WWI). Coward's play satirizes the consequences of society drastically losing its foundations, especially moral foundations.

The violence of WWI rocked humanity to its core, creating what has been dubbed the Lost Generation. The term refers to a group of writers and artists who established themselves as expatriates in Paris after WWI but also applies to any person who came of legal age after WWI and felt equally disillusioned with the world. After WWI, society's structures and morals no longer seemed relevant; thus, individuals immersed themselves in lifestyles of "hard-drinking" and "fast-living" depicted in Coward's characters Amanda and Elyot (Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Lost Generation"). Americans chose to live in Paris because President Warren G. Harding initiated policies, such as the prohibition, to try and regain society's lost structure and morality, and to the Lost Generation, attempting to re-establish morality in a morally depraved world seemed absolutely ridiculous and futile. Soon, individuals from England and other countries followed the path of expatriation and moral debauchery paved by the Lost Generation.

As stated above, Amanda and Elyot portray the loose lifestyle advocated by the Lost Generation, and in portraying this lifestyle, they also challenge society's prewar social structures.

One example can be seen in the fact that Amanda is very socially rebellious, as seen in her love of being "sunburnt," meaning tanned, when women were prized back then for having fair skin and in her declaration of being a gambling addict. Since women were supposed to be subordinate, we can see her rebellious behavior as being masculine in nature as opposed to feminine, which would be society's prescribed role for her.

A second example of Amanda and Elyot rocking social structures can, of course, be seen in the fact that they abandoned their newlywed spouses, forsaking their marriage vows, for the sake of pursuing their lust for each other.

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