The Admirable Crichton Questions and Answers
by J. M. Barrie

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What is the theme of the play The Admirable Crichton?

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The major theme in the play is social class and how it's determined in and out of English society.

Social class and the various ways it's maintained, as well as its effects on people, is an important factor in the story. When a group of English aristocrats and their servants are marooned on an island, none of the pampered people know how to care for themselves. Though they try to conform to English standards at first, the only person who is able to thrive in the environment is the butler Crichton. He quickly becomes the leader of the group and this is affirmed several times despite power struggles from Lord Loam and the other aristocrats. When they're rescued and return to traditional society, however, everyone reassumes their normal place. Only Lady Mary says that perhaps England itself is wrong for the way it puts people in social classes; Crichton is a product of English society, though, and disagrees with her. He says, "My lady, not even from you can I listen to a word against England."

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One of the most abiding themes of the play is the fluidity of social class, and especially how easily it can change under certain environmental conditions. Crichton, a humble butler, becomes the dominant character on the desert island, due to his intelligence and resourcefulness. In the so-called civilized world, Crichton would never get the opportunity to show his true character. But here on a desert island he flourishes among the hapless aristocrats who are supposedly his social superiors.

Social class is presented in the play as being highly artificial, a product of an equally artificial society. It says something about the rigidities of class structure in Edwardian England that someone from a relatively humble background can only really achieve a position of authority on a remote desert island, far away from his native shores. There is a natural aristocracy in this world, it would seem, and Crichton is a part of it, but only—appropriately enough—in the natural world.

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