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Mrs. Warren's Profession

by George Bernard Shaw

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What does Shaw want us to ask in the final moment of Mrs. Warren's Profession?

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The biggest question that the ending of this brilliant play seems to ask in my mind concerns the nature of the mother/daughter relationship that is at the heart of the play and the way that both Mrs. Warren and Vivie, her daughter, seem to represent two different views. Vivie is a very interesting character in the play, as she, at the beginning at least, deliberately rejects the role of dutiful daughter and only begins to emotionally respond to her mother when she is told the full story behind her poverty. She then decides to reject her mother completely when she finds out that her mother was not able to give up her easy life.

However, what is curious about this action is that Mrs. Warren was actually, to a certain extent, a good parent. She did what she had to do to ensure that her daughter received a good education and a stable environment, which meant keeping her at various boarding schools so that she was removed from the less than savoury world of Mrs. Warren's profession. Such an understanding gives us a new approach to speeches of Mrs. Warren such as the following:

I always wanted to be a good woman. I tried honest work; and I was slave-driven until I cursed the day I ever heard of honest work. I was a good mother; and because I made my daughter a good woman she turns me out as if I were a leper.

The massive question lurking behind such speeches therefore is, in an evil world where poverty is rife, can such women as Mrs. Warren be held responsible for their actions in order to provide for their families?

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