Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Why Marry? addresses the issues of a specific time and place. A tremendous social upheaval was occurring in the United States in 1917 concerning the role of women. The vernacular of the day termed this conflict the “New Woman” versus the “True Woman.” Helen represents the New Woman. She is well educated and independent; she does not require a man in her life to provide her with money, career direction, or emotional fulfillment. She is free to enter the workplace and to find her own way.

Lucy is given the role of the True Woman. Her lot is to remain at home in a subservient role to her husband. She is expected to sacrifice her emotional needs to his material comfort. Love between husband and wife is nice, but the union is more of a financial and legal arrangement. Divorce is not an option for the True Woman.

Jean is poised on the brink of one role or the other. If she marries Rex, her fate will be sealed as a True Woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, but bought and paid for in the best capitalist tradition. If she defies John and declines the union with Rex, she has a chance to find love on her own terms as a New Woman.

The odd factor in this play is the relationship between Uncle Everett and Julia. They are getting divorced becausen after twenty-five years of marriage, they have finally discovered that neither of them wants to be married. From the beginning of their relationship, each has sacrificed for the other with concessions of their own desires, not because it was expected of them by society but because they thought the other spouse wanted the concession. More often than not, they would later discover that the concession was unnecessary, that they had mistaken what the other spouse wanted and behaved contrarily to what the other spouse desired. As Uncle Everett gets daily telegrams from Aunt Julia, it becomes evident that their love is deep and their commitment is real. They agree to divorce because each thinks it is what the other wants.