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Feminism in Top Girls

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1663 words Published: 13th Jul 2017

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The play is one of the most famous works of Churchill in all of hers. Some consider the play as a very radical feministic one, some consider it as anti-feminist. But the matter is that she, by the use of different techniques and strategies has made her play like a globe in which all women are there supporting, discarding each other.

The play has a very important historical evidence behind itself and it was the matter of Thatcher that had become prime minister, as Churchill, her self comments that when she wrote top girls:

“Thatcher had just become prime minister; there was talk about whether it was an advance to have a woman prime minister if it was someone with policies like hers. She may be a woman but she isn’t a sister, she may be a sister but she isn’t a comrade. And, in fact, things have got much worse for women under Thatcher”. (Churchill in Betsko and Koenig 1987, 77)

In fact Margaret Thatcher and Edith Cresson, as prime ministers of their own time were really “top girls”.

In top girls, Churchill has had two main idea in her mind: those of dead women coming back and women working. these are in fact two main topics of the play, which are very closely intertwined. the dead women from the past appear in act one, taking place in a restaurant, a celebration that Marlene organizes, because of her recent promotion, we see other characters such as Lady Nijo, Dull Griet, Pope, Joan who celebrate their femininity with each other. during the course of the night they gather together and supposed to speak about their victories, and of course there occurs an epiphany for them because they in fact had lost their own womanly manner in order to achieve men’s world.

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The presence of this empty women is so well epitomized in the character of Marlene, as a kind of gap between past and present, this working class girl pregnant who left her home village to make a new one in London., so the old Marlene has died and no one is born and replaced by a cruel one, so we see here some assembly of dead women, who so naively consider themselves as the most alive ones.

The structure of the play so excellently shows the sense of death of its main characters, in other words we can see a kind of parallelism, between their life and the structure of play. the play’s denouement is somehow truncated, as the lives of women truncated and crooked. Of course we can consider this kind of techniques used by her as a feminist stances of denying the masculine pattern of plays inherited by Aristotle,

I think before the full analyses of the play, that’s better to mention some characteristic of it that is so prominent: her adaptation of Brechtian drama by the use of alienation effects,a kind of aesthetic distance, the matter and technique is so excellently showed by successive interruption of waiter and of course their laughter.

From the perspective of dramatic shape it consists of three acts. one consists of three scenes and act two of tow scenes. I think the matter and division is because of creation of some chronological disruption, and it is done as a way of fulfilling a very good function in order not to create a kind of identification between the reader/audience and the actor/actress on the stage. Another important thing mentioned here is that, between different layers of this play, we have the working of the ideology. In this way we have a criticism of capitalism and capitalist regimes that the play puts forward. 

In another sense, it can be used to exemplify more feminist reading of the play in fact by occurrence of a complete climax and by in fact having a diametrically opposed position to the structure inherent to tragedy postulated by Aristotle. as Christopher Innes has stated:

“Combining surreal fantasy with Shavian discussion, documentary case-histories, and naturalistic domestic drama (complete with kitchen sink and ironing-board), Top Girls breaks out of conventional methods of portraying life on the stage, and suggests new ways of seeing reality

.. creating a dynamic that is liberated from cause-and effect logic. “(Innes 1992, 466),and this matter some how leads us to the next point: looking for a feminist form(or at least a kind of form different from the patriarchal one).the fact that we have in the drama only women and not men, is really vital in comprehension of it. the fact that the actresses in Top Girls have to double or treble roles prevents us from identifying with them and, consequently, focuses the attention of the reader/audience on the political message of the play, that is feminism . Thus, the woman-only cast illustrates the subject matter of Top Girls and reinforces the theme of feminism or that’s better to say anti feminism.

Although, the play deals with oppression of women by men in a capitalist regime, but we see the oppression of women by women as a result of being part of that regime .It can also means that how women have internalized the rules and privileges of patriarchal societies, however, we don’t see a manifest attack of Churchill on men, in other words we don’t see the struggle of women but in fact the play turns on the analyses of class strife and economics. An example can be found in the case of Marlene, who sacrifices her own daughter and family in order to escape from her working-class origins, besides, here in this drama we see that all the women somehow have some masculine way of behavior, although they think that they have cut with them, as we see that they have just an illusion that they are successful women or we as a kind of reader find tat its just an illusion to consider the play just as representation of a feminist drama.

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I think even the naming of character in the play, they exemplify the whole discussion about class struggle and economic strife that underlies it. so we have here a four group classification. First group women of past as we have Isabella Bird, as her name reminds us the matter of travelling. It can also be considered as a reference to the several characters in the play(Marlene, Lady Nijo, Win, Angie, Jeanine and Shona), who long for escape from their reality and fly to other, sunnier lands. here we see on the surface feministic tendency.

Another important thing that really needs concentration is the language used by Churchill, she really has done her best to create a kind of distinctive use of the language in the play as Aston and Savona argue that:

“In Top Girls, the use of overlap is a sign of the female voice. Brecht’s splintering of the ego is further problematised in Churchill’s text by the female entry into the symbolic order of language. As a logocentric or phallocentric sign-system (as identified in Derridean or Lacanian terms), language places the female subject in a marginalized relation to its patriarchal order. “(Aston and Savona 1991, 70) By destabilizing the linguistic exchange and therefore unfixing identity, but at the same time giving predominance to a “female voice”, Churchill seems to be stressing in a radical way “the destabilization and displacement of the female subject in relation to language” (Aston and Savona 1991, 70), and consequently in relation to occupying a position in a patriarchaliy-defined society.

All the women of top girls have conformed themselves to the male standards of behavior and that shows the theatricality of their works and glories. They are never satisfied with this new brand of gender, at least before they were just women now not men and not women belonging to one of them.

From Lacanian point of view and as a confirmation of what I mentioned in the previous paragraph that all their actions are nothing but facade, we see that all of the characters are confined in the symbolic stage with the role of father. Since language is given in and by a system dominated by men, women’s access to it is going to be clearly mediated. According to this, women’s ‘voice’, their ‘identity’, will be totally artificial, a construct defined by patriarchy. This is precisely what Gret purports to destroy in her powerful speech, in which she equals the Symbolic Order to hell. A hell where all the devils are male.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, Caryl Churchill in her marvelous play Top Girls has inserted a lot of messages some say that it is basically a play about capitalism and sexism: About capitalism in the sense that it analyses labor and social relations constituted by a capitalist economy, about sexism in that these relations are seen from a female point of view, which explores how female identity is put down by the politics of patriarchy.

Top Girls is also a socialist-feminist play. It can be defined as socialist in that it takes a clear position against any sort of capitalist ideology, and it can be defined as feminist because it presents us with a parallel between socio-economic, by the use oppression and gender oppression. In fact, as we have seen, Churchill herself is a firm believer in the “inseparability of feminism and socialism”(Kritzer 1991, 149).besides, her uses of characters are true to life, she really generalize the theme of her feministic play, by use of characters of different classes to connote that it is a play about all women. Different strategies of her to create a feminine setting is really of paramount importance, although in this play she showed women who have achieved the highest level of social life but they are not really satisfied. I think the main message of her is that women should know the limits, as she is a social feminist and she is criticizing the bourgeois feminists.


Jstore: Titol de la testi: Gender, Politics, Subjectivity: Reading Caryl Churchill


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