What is the theme of feminism in Top Girls?

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Feminist concerns arise throughout Top Girls. Looking at a contemporary woman in her work and personal lives, the play also introduces prominent women of past historical eras. Rather than blatantly point out analogies to Marlene's life, playwright Caryl Churchill allows the audience to draw conclusions about parallels.

Although Marlene is the protagonist—a career woman who believes she has made sacrifices to advance in her chosen profession—most of the attention to her story is delayed until scene 2. The women presented as her "friends" are in fact fantasies or ghosts, raising questions about her priorities and social position. Does she have real friends?

Marlene's decision to give up her child and related disagreements with her sister, who raises the girl as her own, are shown as a regret, but with limits. Marlene values her own achievements, which clearly were hard-won. Other, more "traditional" women challenge her, such as the wife of Howard, the man who was not promoted.

Marlene seems to epitomize a certain type of career woman who attributes her success to hard work, regardless of gender. She admires Margaret Thatcher. However much feminism might have helped her advance, she seems oblivious or even resentful of modern women who paved the way. Whether Churchill sees this as a flaw of Marlene or feminism itself remains debatable.

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The play addresses feminism in both a direct and offhand manner, as the tone and structure of the play veer from surreal and fantastic to realistic and intimate. In the first act, there is a conversation among women who span history and exhibit different examples of the effects of sexism; many of them have suffered direct physical harm or even death because of their gender. For them to be gathered together in a contemporary setting to share their stories is a way of allowing them to benefit from a feminist perspective without having had access to it in their lifetimes. In the second act, we see contemporary women struggling to balance increased rights and opportunities for women with the same kinds of sexism and limited gender role expectations that affected the women from earlier eras depicted in Act 1.

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