She Stoops To Conquer Themes
What is the main theme of the play She Stoops to Conquer?
The predominant theme of this play is appearance versus reality, but since this is common in literature, the question becomes how it is expressed in She Stoops to Conquer. What Goldsmith explores in the play is how social roles impede us from being ourselves and how damaging this can be. For example, Marlow, the character that Kate "stoops to conquer," becomes a different person depending on what social class he interacts with. Around people who are his equals, he is embarrassingly shy, inept, and seemingly foolish. However, around lower class people, such as innkeepers and barmaids, he is bold and confident. This is played for laughs: we all know someone, in some contexts confident, who is reduced to a mass of inarticulate stammering when thrust into a different role. As Marlow says:
The folly of most people is rather an object of mirth than uneasiness.
Kate, an upper-class woman who is forced to dress plainly by her old-fashioned, sensible father, is mistaken by Marlow for a barmaid, and so he treats her with confidence. She sees a side of him other upper-class woman don't see. She determines to keep up the appearance of a lower-class woman until she has won his affections and then reveal her true identity. This will upset Marlow, though all will turn out right in the end.
The point is that both Kate and Marlow are who they are at core regardless of the public roles they play. Goldsmith invites us to think beyond facades to who a person truly is. We lose out when we don't embrace our best selves, as Marlow expresses to Kate when he describes his shy upper class persona:
I have lived, indeed, in the world, madam; but I have kept little company. I have been but an observer upon life, madam, while others were enjoying it.
She Stoops to Conquer has a variety of themes. Appearance versus Reality permeates the play, because main character Marlow can only feel comfortable in his own skin when he is the company of people who are not his peers.
Since Marlow cannot accept his reality, and he needs "the look" of something to find his comfort zone, it is safe to argue that he is guided by the appearance of lower class folk rather than by the real personality of people.
This theme is also evident in the way that Kate had to transform herself in order to get to Marlow. When she "stoops" and poses as a bar maid to get to know Marlow's real personality the roles become reversed and it is she who is basically fooling him.
Similarly, other characters seem to break with the expected social conventions that make men and women behave in a very specific way during courtship. This means that they adopt a personality in public and another personality in person. For example, Kate acts quite proper as her father tells her, but once this ends she is committing the unthinkable by actively pursuing Marlow. Again, this is indicative of the false versus real personalities that the characters adopt.
Other sub-themes include courtship, social conventions, gender roles, and family relationships, but notice how the theme of appearance and reality still affects these subtopics because the basic problem of the play, which is to bring Marlow and Kate together, can only occur when one of them adopts a fake persona.