Mrs. Warren's Profession

Mrs. Warren's Profession Summary and Analysis of Act II, Part II


Vivie and Mrs. Warren are left alone and the tension between them rises immediately. Mrs. Warren suggests that the two of them should live together until Vivie is married, but Vivie disagrees. She doesn't think her lifestyle would suit her mother, and idea that Mrs. Warren tries to dismiss as childish.

When Mrs. Warren attempts to demonstrate her power over her daughter by demanding that Vivie live according to her wishes, Vivie reminds her that they barely know each other. Specifically, Vivie points out that she knows hardly anything about her mother's profession or history, trying to force her mother to reveal the secrets between them.

Mrs. Warren becomes emotionally distraught what she perceives as Vivie's cruelty toward her. She refuses to tell Vivie the identity of her father, although she confirms that it is not someone Vivie has ever met. In doing so, she reveals that she is not completely certain who it is. Vivie is disgusted and surprises her mother with her coldness. It is only when Mrs. Warren accuses her of being "a stuck-up prude" (64) that she loses some of her resolve and agrees to listen.

Mrs. Warren describes her childhood: Vivie's grandmother raised her, her sister Aunt Lizzie, and two half-sisters alone. One of the half-sisters, Anne Jane, went to work in a factory and died of lead poisoning; the other married an alcoholic and lived a conventional life. Aunt Lizzie and Mrs. Warren went to a church school until Aunt Lizzie ran away; now she lives as a respectable lady because she was able to support herself as a businesswoman. Mrs. Warren, on the other hand, was set up by a clergyman as a scullery maid and eventually became a prostitute in order to maintain her independence from men and to support herself financially.

She implores Vivie to believe that she does not enjoy making money this way, that she always believed it to be morally wrong. However, she made the best of what she had and has found independence and financial stability through prostitution. In fact, Vivie's own life has greatly benefitted from her mother's work, since she has been able to afford a first-rate education.

Vivie has gained an immense amount of respect for her mother after hearing her life story. She asks whether her mother ever feels ashamed of her work, and Mrs. Warren's answer is that although she does, of course, she believes that there was no other option for her, given the way the world is for women.

When Mrs. Warren says she is getting tired, Vivie admits she won't be able to sleep. She tells her mother that she has won her over, and that she'd like to be on good terms. They hug each other and declare that they will be good to each other in the future.


Vivie's lack of sentimentality in the face of her mother's emotion marks her as an example of a "New Woman.” Mrs. Warren, too, has exemplified feminist qualities by deciding to support herself in the face of adversity rather than accepting her gender's conventional lot. But the ways in which the women are achieving independence differ; this contrast is evident in Vivie's questions to her mother -- "Who are you? What are you?" (61) -- and Mrs. Warren's later desperate plea to her daughter --"My God, what sort of woman are you?" (63).

Throughout this conversation, the relationship between mother and daughter goes through various transformations. The underlying tension is that while each approaches life unconventionally, their ideas still conflict in many ways. Mrs. Warren does not know her daughter personally and believes she can wield emotional power over her. However, Vivie is unemotional and practical, and will not allow herself to be manipulated by her mother.

The secret of Mrs. Warren's profession comes to light in this act, after Vivie drags it out of her mother. The immediate result is that Vivie accepts her mother, since she is able to understand why Mrs. Warren made the life decisions she did. Both women are keenly aware of the limitations on their gender when it comes to surviving independently, so Vivie sees the logic in becoming a prostitute when your other options are to either marry or work in a factory.

The breaking of convention is a prominent theme throughout this conversation, as a topic of discussion and in the women's actions. Mrs. Warren, who attempts to maintain a respectable demeanor most of the time, loses control and begins speaking in her native accent. At this moment, Vivie's resolve breaks, since she does not want to be the conventional one in contrast to her mother.

Mrs. Warren's assertion that her profession is morally wrong points to the recurring theme of morality. Although she believes that prostitution is not right, she has been forced to make the best of what life has dealt her and she does not regret her decisions. In fact, what is much more wrong than the work itself is the fact "that there shouldn't be better opportunities for women" (67). That, in Shaw's opinion, is the true immorality of prostitution.