UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

An analysis of the role of the powerful woman in seven plays : Ghosts, Candida, The House of Bernarda Alba, The Maids, The Visit, The American Dream, The Homecoming Johnson, Eric


This thesis is a study of a select group of women characters who appear prominently in several twentieth-century plays. It analyses the driving force which motivates the power-seeking woman, the methods by which she achieves her power, the type of power she acquires, and the effect it has on the other characters; it also attempts to clarify the specific concern of each playwright, ranging from exploitation of social questions to psychological analyses of role-playing. The characters examined are: Nora and Mrs. Alving in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House (l879) and Ghosts (l88l), Candida in Bernard Shaw's Candida (l895), Bernarda in Frederico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba (1936), the three maids in Jean Genet's The Maids (1947), Claire Zachanassian in Friedrich Duerrenmatt's The Visit (1956), Mommy in Edward Albee's The American Dream (1959), and Flora and Ruth respectively in Harold Pinter's A Slight Ache (1959) , and The Homecoming (1965). The study centres on this specific group of plays because a pattern emerges from them vhich reveals a basic change in the authors’ attitude to the women characters: in the earlier plays they are used as instruments for social criticism; in the later ones they appear in. less concrete and more symbolic or archetypal roles. The pattern also reveals the nature of the society which molds the women into positions of power, and the weak personalities of their partners which in turn forces them to adopt particularly aggressive roles. A clear-cut development emerges when the plays are examined chronologically. Initially, the playwrights are concerned with criticism of social issues: the hypocrisy of moral values perpetuated in middle class communities such as the one inhabited by Mrs. Alving, the shallowness of the so-called sanctity of late Victorian marriage, the stagnating effect of a claustrophobic society such as Spain's where rigid tradition functions as a repressing force which prevents individuals from developing their human potential. By the mid-twentieth century, this social critique has changed. The clearly defined social issues (the wife's subservience to the breadwinner husband, the woman's accepted role as empty-headed figurine, the impact of social custom) has become on the one hand a psychological assessment of an innate and timeless power struggle among three women as in Genet's The Maids; on the other hand it has developed into an archetypal situation such as in Pinter's The Homecoming, where Ruth takes on the role of mother-whore and A Slight Ache, where Flora quickly identifies her primal sensuality in the matchseller. Within eighty years the timebound criticism of woman's position in a, particular society has given room to the exploration of a timeless mythical pattern unbound by.social context.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.