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Women’s Role in “Top Girls” Play by Caryl Churchill

Caryl Churchill is the Playwright of the famous Play ‘Top Girls’ which captures a charming and amusing approach of some of the famous women in history and the role of women in contemporary society. The story has been described on the thematic structure of feminist ideas of women’s role in the modern world. The Play shows the position of a woman in the life of a man through the social, political, economical and intellectual aspects and her struggle to move with the changing tides. This is illustrated on both Practical and Imaginary lines of the realities of the world. Churchill had written the play in opposition to the ideologies of Margaret Thatcher which helps the rich minority of British women while the poorer sections were left ignored. The beginning of the play shows the imaginary or fantasy world of a woman and her experiences through the eyes of a first person and gradually glides to contemporary woman and her survival among the historical and imaginary worlds. The story is told through the characters of five women of different time, culture and environment who join Marlene, who is the Chief Executive of Top Girl’s Employment Agency in London at a dinner party and also through other women who are associated with the Marlene during the various aspects of life and their struggle to fight beyond their boundaries to achieve their goals.

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Angie is the daughter of Marlene and her humiliation which she tries to hide. Marlene was only 17 years old when Angie was born and gave her away to fulfil her ambitions in her career. Angie on the other hand left school and doesn’t have qualifications. She learns that Marlene is her biological mother and a disturbed mind is portrayed by her repetitive dialogues of killing her adopted mother, Joyce. Even though she does not have many qualifications and is not approved by her mother, Joyce, she is determined to travel and find her real mother and breaks the invisible boundaries set by Joyce to achieve her ambition.

Angie: I am going to kill my mother and you are going to watch…….Now I am a cannibal. I might turn into a vampire, now.

Marlene finds her similarity with the depressed guests at the dinner party through her adoption to attain higher career objectives. One of the dinner party guests was Isabella who lived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her life is shown as filled with unhappiness and begins to relate to the other lives. She finally begins to take a positive approach to her life by being grateful for what she did get through her adventures and her own life strategy. Isabella travelled, had numerous adventures and never allowed herself to be bounded in the role of a Housewife, even though she regrets for loses she had through it, she still nurtures the happiness of freedom and enjoyment she got by following her dreams. Marlene was able to correlate and define her life with that of Isabella. Dell Gret, who was one of the guests at the party, is shown as the leader of the women to fight against devils in a painting. Even though she is a fictional character, the painting displays her ideology and her battle to withstand the problems and challenges and not to surrender.Her story helped Marlene to realise her struggles against various difficulties in life. One of the other guests was Pope Joan who lived during the 19th century. She had lived her life disguised as a man to accomplish her life’s goal and finally became a Pope but she fell into the hands of lovers which eventually lead to her brutal death by the people. She had to fight a severe battle to survive. Her knowledge of the survival of the supremacy of men made her disguise herself as man but her sentiments and emotions of a woman made her loose the battle. She was never ready to loose the battle and slide into the veil of women life; instead she fought against it with her might, even though she failed at the end.

Pope Joan: I thought God would speak to me but of course he knew I was a woman.

Marlene could see her life in those viewpoints also. Lady Nijo is another guest at the party who lived during the 13th century as Buddhist monk. She is happy to reflect her earlier life as an Emperor and moves into tears as she reflects her past experiences. Lady Nijo, even though she had all luxuries unlike the other guests, was not caught in the pleasant life. Her self sacrifice and compassion made her surrender the luxuries and to follow her dream. She reminded Marlene of her experiences as well. Griselda is the fictional character in The Clerk’s tale in The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer was another guest at the dinner party. She is portrayed as an obedient wife and mother of two children. She was loyal to her husband and never dared to question him in anything even when her children were taken away from her. But finally her loyalty was rewarded and this reveals an aspect of Marlene’s life as well. The only guest who had surrendered herself to the supremacy of man and was not willing to break her barriers was Griselda. She had a difficult life in the submerged life as a wife and mother, but she was able to win everything back through her patience and loyalty which was absent in most of the other guests.

Marlene: You really are exceptional, Griselda.

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Jeanine who is being interviewed by Marlene describes about her ambition to attain a job and also get married soon. Though Marlene is sceptical about her ambitions in her career, she was able to categorize Jeannine’s prospectus to what she can achieve in her job and helps her accordingly. Jeannine is the person who wants to balance her life and career. Even though she dreams of a married life, she fights her way through the interview to achieve her ambitions in career. Joyce, elder sister of Marlene, is portrayed as woman with little ambitions, who married and was settled happily by earning money through cleaning houses. Though she is poorer than Marlene, she denies her financial help. Marlene and Joyce are in two different strands of the world, yet they believe that their views are correct and try to survive in their own worlds. She disagrees with the principles of Margaret Thatcher and is even seen disputing with her sister which shows her loyalty to the working class section. Even though Joyce has failed in her married life, she is seen as a person who stands up for her rights. She was not willing to be depressed by her husband’s negligence; instead she works as a house cleaner and stands up for her rights as a working class woman. Mrs. Kidd is shown as loyal wife of Mr. Howard and persuades Marlene to deny her promotion which Marlene clears states that she can’t. Mrs. Kidd is portrayed as a woman who wishes the best for her husband even if it means to downturn other people. She is portrayed for her loyalty to her husband and trying to help him out of his troubles rather than wait for him to help her out in her troubles. Nell who is a colleague of Marlene is shown as a focussed person who turns down her boyfriend’s wedding proposal to achieve her career objectives. Nell is not willing to be in the net of marriage and love and her bravery in refusing marriage proposals and follow her career objectives shows her ability to challenge the limitations of a woman.

This play describes the cost of success which had to be paid by Marlene in her life through overlapping dialogues and the merging of fiction and realistic life. The first scene is the dinner party hosted by Marlene for her promotion is often seen as the highlight of the entire play. Marlene who is the main role of the play is a woman who fights her way through each difficulty to attain her goals. She lost many of her possessions in the battle for victory yet she is portrayed as a self sufficient and victorious woman who was not willing to be tied up in the bondages of motherhood and marriage but to fight to achieve her position equal to a man. Each character described in each role determines the series of roles that they played to withstand the tides of life. A series of questions are left unanswered and provokes thoughts on whether their career life had cost them their life’s happiness. Each Character describes the lives which are seen among the women of the society. Their courage, loyalty and ambitions helped them achieve what they wanted rather than surrendering themselves into the traditional roles of a Wife and Mother under the supremacy of a man.

Marlene: To our courage, and the way we changed our lives, and our extraordinary achievements.

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