Psychoanalytical essay of Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

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Explore how psychoanalysis sheds light on `Top Girls'.
The first act of `Top Girls' depicts a dinner party scene, which various historical and some
influential women attend, that results in the sharing of their own stories. A psychoanalytical
criticism of the play will provide an insight into, not only the mind and underlying stories
regarding the characters, but also a suggestion of the author, Caryl Churchill, and the
messages she is trying to portray.
Each woman has characteristics that evidently set her apart from others and on the most
part they are to be perceived as strong and independent women. From a psychoanalytical
perspective, it is fair to assume that the women are archetypal literary characters or perhaps,
antiarchetypes. For instance, Pope Joan , being someone who has defied all that was
expected of her and taken a role no other woman has before, cites `I consecrated bishops
and let people kiss my feet' highlighting the power she possessed, and by extension
encouraging the idea that women can become successful. She appears as an antiarchetype
to the ingénue, in that, ingénues are stereotypically virginal, naive young women, such as
Christine Daae in `The Phantom of the Opera' for example, and Joan manifestly, is not. One
could go as far to suggest that perhaps Caryl Churchill intended the contrast to such
archetypes to correlate with the occurrences of the time she was writing. For Isabella to state
`my father taught me Latin even though I was a girl.' emphasises the difference between her,
clearly an intellectual, and other girls from her era and the inclusion of such individuals in the
text, makes way for plenty of interpretations. The play was penned in 1982, a time when
Margaret Thatcher, first female prime minister was increasingly justifying what was then, the
absurd notion that women could be successful, and so for Churchill to portray women as this
antiarchetype at such a time was potentially somewhat of a feministic political statement.
The fact that the women differ heavily in personality, where Griselda is, as her name
suggests, patient, as well as apparently obedient in comparison to the adventurous and
independent, Isabella Bird is prospectively an indication of various shades of Churchill's
personality. The theory of psychoanalysis advocates that an author's characters are actually
an indication of their mentality, conveying that perhaps Caryl Churchill is expressing her own
psyche through the use of the characters. Alternatively, it could be said that the use of the
different women and their individual characteristics are indicative of women in society. Gret
with her crudeness and determination, Nijo and her ability to love unconditionally, Isabella and
her independence and intellect, Griselda and her compliance, Joan and her courageousness
and fearlessness and lastly, Marlene with her motherly and friendly nature depict alternative
characteristics that women may have. This, in turn, could be subliminally suggestive that
woman can be anything that they want as opposed to society's ideology of the what a woman
should be and again, be a political statement on Churchill's behalf.
It is essential to consider the idea of id, superego and ego within the text. It considers the idea
that one's id is the instinctive, unconscious and impulsive part of the personality, that the ego
is the more realistic side as it considers the real world and works by reason, where the
superego is the amalgamation of them both as a sort of middle ground. The presence of
such psychological representation can be inferred by the audience as alternative meanings to
what is actually being said. A prime of example of this is the frequent interjections of Gret.
Throughout the dinner scene, she interposes with random comments such as `Balls',

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Bastard' and `Big cock' which all appear to be crude and uncalled for. It is, however,
reasonable to suggest that although seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary the words are
representative of her id. Freud's theory suggests that the id is simply the sexual desires, or
eros, and the bad side that is naturally within us and Churchill's portrayal of it here is
emblematic of the natural sexual and aggressive instinct within Gret.…read more

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Joan is described to be animatedly describing her trauma of giving birth
on a horse, followed frequently with immediate laughter until she bluntly cites `They took me
by the feet and dragged me out of town and stoned me to death.' This is ensued by the stage
direction `They stop laughing'. Being the first time since the dinner party that there has been a
point of silence, indicates that this is an important moment.…read more


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