Illustration of Kate Hardcastle in high society attire on the left, and dressed as a barmaid on the right

She Stoops to Conquer

by Oliver Goldsmith

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Why is Tony Lumpkin important in She Stoops to Conquer?

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Tony functions as a kind of trickster or antihero in She Stoops to Conquer. Although he is idle and selfish, his deceptions create the plot and make it possible for the characters to reach a happy ending.

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Tony Lumpkin is a character who is important in this play for two reasons. Firstly, he is connected to the important theme of truth and falsehood, which is linked to the theme of appearances and reality. It is he who tells the lie to Marlow and Hastings that makes them believe that the residence of Mr. Hardcastle is actually an inn and that Mr. Hardcastle himself is a member of the working class with pretensions to rise above his station in society. At the same time, he is also introduced in a way that draws a distinction between the way characters are perceived and the actual reality, as the very differing opinions of him that his mother and Mr. Hardcastle have demonstrate. As such, he could be said to be something of a parallel to Marlow, who likewise attracts very different opinions of his character.

However, one of the most important parts of the play places Tony Lumpkin centre stage: it is at the end of the play, when he realises he is actually of age, that he is able to free Constance from their engagement and gain his own freedom from his mother's plans for him:

Witness all men by these presents, that I, Anthony Lumpkin, Esquire of BLANK place, refuse you, Constance Neville, spinster, of no place at all, for my true and lawful wife. So Constance Neville may marry whom she pleases and Tony Lumpkin is his own man again!

Tony Lumpkin is therefore an important character in the way that he is used to introduce important themes, but also in the way that he is the agent that is able to clear the way for one of the couples, Hastings and Constance to marry, simultaneously destroying his mother's plans for him.

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What is the role of Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer?

Tony Lumpkin is the good-for-nothing son of Dorothy Hardcastle. Tony has an independent income from his father, which allows him to be idle all the time. Instead of working, Tony uses his time to play tricks on people and cause trouble. Tony's last name, Lumpkin, suggests that he is stupid and lazy, but while he is illiterate, he is far from stupid.

Tony performs several roles in the play. He is a comic character as well as a trickster, and his desire to amuse himself at others' expense propels the plot forward. His goal—to avoid marriage—is at odds with the conventional values of his mother, who wishes to marry him off. In fact, Tony's behavior highlights the shallowness and hypocrisy of all the characters, whose narrow self interests become confused or thwarted by Tony's deceptions.

In an inversion of the typical "happy" ending, Tony is "rewarded" for his deceptions with the opportunity to reject Constance as a marriage partner. In this sense, it's possible to see Tony as a kind of antihero: although he plays a central role in the play, his values are the opposite of a conventional hero: he is duplicitous rather than truthful, cunning rather than wise, and selfish rather than sacrificial.

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