Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Margaret Fleming is the first American play that seriously attempted to move away from sentimental theater and present domestic realism. The subject is the double standard between the sexes and the consequences of marital infidelity. Philip Fleming, though seemingly very happy with his marriage to Margaret and with his baby, Lucy, has had an affair with Lena Schmidt.

When Lena becomes pregnant he thinks he has averted trouble by paying her off. Yet Margaret finds out about the baby. She does forgive Philip but cannot accept him as her husband. She asks how he might have felt if she had been unfaithful to him. Philip is horrified at the idea. Margaret says “You see! You are a man and you have your ideals of—the—sanctity—of—the thing you love. Well, I am a woman—and perhaps—I, too, have the same ideals. I don’t know. But, I, too, cry ‘pollution.’”

Philip is amazed that Margaret has brought his baby boy to their home to care for him. “You brought that child here?” he asks. “What other thing was there for me to do?” Margaret says. “Surely if he was good enough to bring into the world, he is good enough to find shelter under your roof.” She insists that Philip must give the boy a name and educate him in order to atone for the wrong he did to the child’s mother. Philip seems almost helpless in trying to face the present situation. Margaret says there is no need to lament the past. They must face the living future. “We will fight this together,” she says. Margaret has not only personal integrity but also a social conscience and great strength.