Areas of Study

Areas of Study

The abrupt nature of the utterances in Top Girls reflects a style of playwrighting that is more modern, where a short sentence can be loaded with meaning. The minimal use of words lays bare the main issues while allowing much dramatic effect through their simplicity. There is more strength in what is not said, and the clarity of speech does not mean that there are less issues to decode.

The language of misogyny, appropriated by women, is apparent in Joyce's swearing at Angie that she is a 'cunt'. The use of strong language serves to shock, and alongside the use of vocabulary and knowledge of the character's backgrounds, reinforces the class of Marlene and her family. In Angie's case, it shows how Joyce's attitudes and ways of speaking affect her, and is also a response to her hurt feelings.

Pope Joan's use of Latin is interesting: Latin has been known as the language of learning, with influence on different languages, especially in the fields concerning medicine, the law and education. Education in Latin was denied to women during medieval times. In speaking Latin to a modern audience, and to her own immediate audience, Joan is alienating others. Her meaning is not important: it is the fragmented nature of the conversation and isolated experience that is reinforced.

The lack of support that women give each other is evident at the dinner party hosted by Marlene, where the women do not really consider each other's stories. Marlene acts as a modern female host, reminiscent of the Host of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, bringing together diverse people who tell a story but who only tell a story for their own reasons, and for the audience's contemplation, not to share in each other's stories.

How does the disjointed use of language in Top Girls affect the unity of the characters in the play?

Feminism is a much-maligned word these days. It is associated with an image that is negative and, quite simply, wrong. Feminists are not man-haters, and nor do they support the idea of inequality between the sexes through a simple realignment of power boundaries. Their aim seemed to be a greater equality, where the dispossessed could begin to exist on a level that had existed for the dominant culture for thousands of years. Churchill, however, wants to explore the achievements of the previous generation, and look at what they gained and lost.

Each character's experience is different, and most do not consider how they may have been badly affected by societies, which allow men to control their lives and happiness. Churchill critiques the rights that women have gained and their place in society: she questions whether these rights have brought women independence, opportunity and happiness, or simply defined women in a different way, giving them more options but allowing them less rights concerning decision making, as they try to combine work and personal lives. She questions what feminism is, and whether people who claim they want equal rights are actually acting in the best interests of women - or not. She also highlights the damage that can be done through in fighting, where two separate factions can pull in opposite directions, thereby reducing the potential for achievement.

How does Churchill present the freedoms that women have gained in the years preceding her play?

Churchill looks at the idea of a society that has broken down to concentrate on the individual. The Thatcher Government believed in achieving a successful economy above all, involving privatisation and loss of publicly owned services. She once claimed that there was no such thing as society any more, merely individuals. The effects of being working class within such an economy, and affected by such an ideology of individualism are explored. Churchill looks at the effects of Marlene and Joyce's upbringing upon their choices in life, and how their choices affect Angie. She makes it clear that a lack of money has created difficulties for the different generations of their family, and will continue to do so.

In what ways does Churchill present the problems of society and not just of gender?

Churchill demonstrates that attitudes and ambitions need to change to achieve true equality. However, she also highlights the difficulty in reconciling people's different aims within one society, where many of them appear conflicting. She also explores the concept of equality between supposed equals, not just in terms of the battle between the sexes.

For example, it is apparent that Marlene cannot support anyone with values and priorities different to hers. Neither she nor Joyce support their daughter. Mrs Kidd dismisses women in her motivation for supporting her husband. Each woman is concerned with her own personal life above the well being of her rights.

How does Churchill present the conflicts between the women in the play? What does the absence of male characters in the play add to this?

Past and present