What common characteristics do all characters in Caryl Churchill's Top Girls share?

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The three characters who seemingly offer the most hope for the future are Marlene, Joyce, and Top Girl candidates Lily and Lol. They all seem to be capable of transcending their biological fate as women in a patriarchal society. Bertha and Edna are an older generation of women trapped by their age and experience. Bertha has no chance at “the top” because she has been deemed “past it” when she is only forty-three years old. She clings to her tenuous position at work because it is the only way she can feel like a success as a woman. Edna's role as Top Girl candidate is hollow—she doesn'

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The main characteristic that all the Top Girls characters have in common is that they are female. In addition, as suggested by the title, they all excel in some way.

Caryl Churchill also suggests some parallels between the historical figures and the contemporary ones. The playwright encourages the reader or...

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viewer to investigate the cost of making it to the “top” and the meaning of success in life as well as a career. Joyce wanted to be a good sister and adoptive mother, but her efforts to help her sister and niece generated neither the satisfaction nor the gratitude she expected. Joyce evokes comparison to the historical figure of Dull Gret, a heroic mother. In terms of combined ambition and service to a cause, Pope Joan may be compared with Marlene.

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The characters introduced in the first act, fictional and historical characters from art and literature, are all women who have experienced significant trauma, social upheaval or remarkable levels of achievement, all connected to gender norms prevalent in their respective eras. Lady Nijo, for example, is a consort to the emperor of japan in the 13th century, who undergoes shame and humiliation when she is demoted from her social status. Pope Joan dressed as a man and was stoned to death in the street during a Papal procession after giving birth and revealing her gender. Both characters are intelligent and articulate, yet reluctant to reveal the emotional depths of their trauma. Dull Gret is a character from a Brueghel painting who fights the demons of hell, but has a fairly flat depiction, despite her humor and earthy appeal.

Marleen and Joyce, the sisters whose contemporary story frames the play, also portray women whose personal lives underscore the difficulty women still have in the world, overcoming gender expectations. Joyce resents Marlene's independence and success, while Marlene mourns the loss of the daughter she bore and gave to Joyce to raise as her own. When it is revealed that Joyce had a miscarriage as a result of exhaustion caused by caring for Marlene's baby, the sisters' relationship is fractured further.

All of the characters in TOP GIRLS can be seen to illustrate the themes of feminism being part of an evolving ongoing social process, one that is fraught with deals and difficulty regardless of the historical context where women's achievements and trials take place.

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