The Corn Is Green

by Emlyn Williams
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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

The Corn Is Green brings out a number of social issues which, although presented in a late nineteenth century context, were still relevant to the audiences of the 1930’s. Through Miss Moffat’s zeal for education, the play becomes a lively protest against the conditions of the Welsh mining communities and their lack of educational opportunity. “Round here,” says Mr. Jones, “they are only children till they are twelve. Then they are sent away over the hills to the mine, and in one week they are old men.” Although conditions had improved by the 1930’s, it remained extremely difficult for working-class youngsters to get to university, and for a miner’s son to get to Oxford was a rare phenomenon indeed.

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The playwright’s indictment of Britain as a class-divided society—an aspect of British life seldom touched on in prewar mainstream drama—is apparent throughout the play and reaches its most explicit point with Miss Moffat’s spirited attack on the Squire:You are the Squire Bountiful, aren’t you? Adored by his contented subjects, intelligent and benignly understanding, are you? I should just like to point out that there is a considerable amount of dirt, ignorance, misery and discontent abroad in this world, and that a good deal of it is due to people like you.

Miss Moffat herself, arriving by bicycle—a symbol, in the late nineteenth century, of women’s independence—is a sympathetic, if somewhat limited projection of feminism.

These social issues, although raised with considerable warmth and verve, are comfortably neutralized by the twists and turns of the plot. The Squire, for all of his snobbery and bombast, becomes a devoted patron of village education. Miss Moffat’s feminism is presented as a consequence of her lack of beauty, not as a matter of free choice. For all of her assertions of independence, she is not above playing the “little woman” to win the Squire over to her side, and she ends up an adoptive mother. The terms in which feminism is presented are, in fact, circumscribed by the conventions of the period and were to become less acceptable to later generations of audiences.

The play’s strongest theme has to do more with social than with national issues. It is, above all, a play about Welshness—a celebration of the nature of the Welsh people, which is expressed in the dialogue, the characters, and the occasional song. The plot itself, the eternal story of the local boy who makes good and of the extraordinary local pride when any member of the village community achieves fame and success beyond the border, is typically Welsh.

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Characters