Mrs. Warren's Profession

Mrs. Warren's Profession Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In their conversation at the end of Act II, Mrs. Warren tells Vivie, "Women have to pretend to feel a great deal that they don't feel." How do these two women portray this sentiment?

    Mrs. Warren, who works as a prostitute and brothel owner, still pretends to adhere to certain conventions. Throughout the play, she pretends to feel motherly protection toward Vivie and to know her daughter better than she actually does. She also never speaks frankly of her work, pretending to feel ashamed of it because that is the polite thing to do. In contrast, Vivie refuses to pretend to feel anything. Rather, she avoids sentimentality and speaks frankly with women and men alike.

  2. 2

    How does Vivie exemplify the idea of a "New Woman"?

    The "New Woman" is a feminist ideal described by Winnifred Harper Cooley in her 1904 publication The New Womanhood. The idea had been around for decades, and Shaw was a proponent of it: the "New Woman" was independent, educated, and practical. Vivie exemplifies this "New Woman" by educating herself, working outside the home, and by refusing to marry or take care of her mother.

  3. 3

    How do the characters of the play reject social conventions?

    Many of the characters invoke the idea of being "unconventional" as a personality trait either in themselves or other characters. Vivie clearly rejects conventions in relation to what it means to be a woman and what is expected of her gender; she refuses to marry or take care of her mother. Mrs. Warren, too, is unconventional in that she became a prostitute and continues to manage brothels. Frank, as a man expected to support himself financially, refuses to do so and seems to delight in his waywardness. Praed, though a respectable architect, views himself as an artist and approves of the lack of convention he sees in Vivie.

  4. 4

    One of the ways love is commodified in this play is through marriage. How do the approaches to marriage espoused by Mrs. Warren and Crofts compare to each other?

    In Act II, both Crofts and Mrs. Warren put forth mercenary ideas about marriage. Crofts proposes to Mrs. Warren that he should marry Vivie because he is wealthy enough to support both her and her mother. He sees being older than Vivie as a bonus in the deal, since he will die soon and leave Vivie a wealthy widow. Although she is disgusted with his suggestion, Mrs. Warren later reveals to Vivie a similar belief in regard to the purpose of marriage. However, she bemoans the fact that marriage should function as the only respectable way for a woman to become financially stable.

  5. 5

    In Act II, Mrs. Warren wins Vivie over with her personal history, and Vivie does not judge her mother's life decisions thereafter. However, by the end of Act IV, she has decided to reject her mother. What is the determining factor in this shift of mentality?

    For Vivie, her mother's profession was excusable because Mrs. Warren didn't have another choice. It was the practical option for a poor young girl, and Vivie understands her mother's motivation in turning to prostitution. However, when Vivie discovers that her mother continues to run brothels despite having secured financial stability for herself, she is disgusted and refuses to condone it. Her perception of morality does not allow for prostitution unless it is the last resort. She sees her mother as no better than Crofts, profiting off young girls who have nowhere else to turn.

  6. 6

    How do the male characters of the play embody male privilege?

    Male privilege is often unrecognized by the characters who benefit from it, although it permeates their lives and the decisions they make. Crofts demonstrated male privilege by making the decision to buy and operate brothels; he did not need to, as Vivie points out, but he thought it would be a wise business decision to use young girls' bodies to make money. Praed exhibits male privilege in his description of himself as an artist; unlike a woman, he has the freedom to associate with whom he pleases, without risking his reputation. Frank's male privilege is obvious in his loafing and lack of motivation. Unlike the female characters, he does not need to turn to prostitution or educate himself very much in order to continue to live a life of leisure. His father, the Reverend Samuel Gardner, has the privilege of being married while still maintaining a secret past of promiscuity. If he were a woman, that past would taint his entire life and his prospects; as a man, he is able to become a clergyman.

  7. 7

    The mother-daughter relationship is an important thread throughout the play. How does it change from Act to Act?

    At first, Mrs. Warren pretends her relationship with Vivie is conventional between mother and daughter, but Vivie rejects this farce and confronts her mother about her secrets in Act II. This turns the traditional power dynamic on its head, as Mrs. Warren becomes vulnerable by sharing her history. By the end of Act II, Vivie has accepted her mother as a woman who turned to prostitution in order to achieve independence. However, in Act III, Crofts reveals to Vivie that he and her mother still own and operate brothels. This causes Vivie to lose respect for Mrs. Warren and flee to the city. When Mrs. Warren goes to find her there in Act IV, Vivie rejects her as a mother and says they shall never see each other again.

  8. 8

    Mrs. Warren keeps secrets from Vivie and the other characters to different degrees. Why is she so secretive?

    Mrs. Warren's profession is a secret that most of the characters in the play suspect details about. In sharing the secret of her profession with her daughter in Act II, Mrs. Warren leaves out the fact that she continues to work as a prostitute and run brothels. She knows that Vivie will relate to her practicality in choosing her profession, as well as her desire for independence as a woman. When Crofts reveals the rest of the secret to Vivie in Act III, it turns out Mrs. Warren was right in worrying that this bit of information would turn her daughter against her. Additionally, Mrs. Warren keeps the identity of Vivie's father a secret in order to wield power over the male characters. Long ago, she told the Reverend Samuel Gardner that "knowledge is power" (46), and she maintains that principle.

  9. 9

    Which characters are sentimental, and which are practical?

    From the first act to the fourth, Praed sets himself up as Vivie's emotional foil. He craves sentimentality and culture and is convinced that everyone else should, as well. Mrs. Warren is manipulative but, when it comes to her relationship with her daughter, quite sentimental. She has hoped that they would be able to reconcile and live together, and displays emotional outbursts stereotypical of women when her requests are denied. Vivie is, in contrast, decidedly practical. She refuses to be moved by her mother's emotional outbursts and disdains the cultural pastimes Praed so enjoys. But in telling Frank that his chiding "keeps me from being sentimental" (93), she reveals that although she is practical by nature, this personality trait is also something she nurtures within herself as a conscious choice. Frank, too, is practical; he is able to throw aside any romantic feeling for Vivie when it becomes clear that he cannot marry her for financial reasons, but he doesn't plan a dramatic exit that will disallow him from remaining friends with her. Crofts is more practical than sentimental, as he outlines all the financial reasons Vivie should marry him. He also uses cynical justifications for why he went into the prostitution industry.

  10. 10

    Describe Vivie's conception of morality.

    Vivie's morals are rooted in being true to oneself. She denies marriage proposals from Frank and Crofts simply because she does not want to be married. She refuses to continue her relationship with her mother because it would not make her happy. She works all the time rather than taking vacations like Praed because she prefers it. Simply doing what will allow her to respect herself is motivation enough, and she ends up despising her mother when she realizes that Mrs. Warren's motivations differ. Deep down, her mother reveals that she believes her line of work to be wrong, yet she continues to participate in it. Therefore, Vivie accuses her mother of being "a conventional woman at heart" (104), despite her unconventional profession. Her mother "should not have lived one life and believed in another" (104), but rather committed to being true to herself.