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Cultural Materialist Reading of Top Girls

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2009, 22(3), pp.55-89
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Yoon Bang-sil 1

1관동대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Top Girls is set in a very specific decade as well as in a peculiar political context: Britain in the 1980s. That decade witnessed a rapidly changing political, social and economical situation. Then, Britain had a Margaret Thatcher, the symbol of the capitalist ‘superwoman’, who served as Prime Minister. A sweeping political change is bound to entail a fierce conflict over class, values and meanings. The 1980s was no exception. The so-called dominant ideology, “Thatcherism” or “Thatcherite” values, reigned the psyche of the people. The first-ever woman prime minister attempted to revive ‘Victorian values’ and laid emphasis to capitalist values, such as competition, individualism, achievement and celebrity, in a manner seemingly helpful in creating a favorable political environment for her political party and government. Against the backdrop of Thatcherism, the material and ideological basis of that society, this play uses an all-female cast of sixteen characters, five of whom do not exist in the present, played by seven women. This provides room to extend beyond a feminist reading of this play on the basis of a gender-based approach toward analyzing it within the context of a discussion of cultural materialism. Accordingly, this paper aims to read Top Girls from a cultural materialist viewpoint, on the grounds that feminist readings alone can obscure the truly political and material meanings found beneath the feminist-friendly surface of this play. In order to accomplish this, the paper explores the text's historical context, as well as its political and material implications, and then, through close textual analysis, notes the extent to which people, bar none, have internalized the dominant ideology, while gauging any possibility of subversion of the illegal values and social system. To allow the subject to progress effectively, this paper is divided into four sections, each of which reveals the material characteristics associated with capitalism, thus opening new avenues of the materialist approach to the issues of conflict between class and values. The first section titled ‘ideology and Thatcherism’ explores family ideology, individualism, precedence of the elites, and xenophobia. The second section comprises human values and material realities. The third section deals with capitalist values or capitalist hierarchies such as class and competition in which Churchill utilizes costumes and places as metaphors. The last one focuses on the acceptance of dramatic techniques, such as overlapping, single-gendered casting, non-linear structure, and double casting, as far as materialist reading is concerned. Throughout the play, in which the stories of historical women parallel the characters in the modern-day (Thatcher era) story, we see the cherished norms of human values and capitalist values engaged in conflict with one another, and finally reach the conclusion that human values are not antecedent to these material realities, but are, on the contrary, formed in, and changed by them. Top Girls is, above all, a play about structures and the operating process of the dominant ideology, as well as the conflict between human values and material realities.

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