All literature is written for a reason, the author is intending to communicate something often found at the very core of the work itself. Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine is no different, told through the perspective of an aging housewife it draws attention to both social and personal messages. One such message is the concept of personal growth and human potential. Within the play there are many insights and examples of the theme like the transformation Shirley`s character goes through and the characteristics of the younger version of herself to the women she has become.
Shirley Valentine is trapped. Stuck in both social and economic roles, in the beginning of the play she is the common housewife tasked with few things other than cooking, cleaning and tending to her children. Her lack of meaningful relationships is so prevalent that she is driven to talk to the wall only to be labeled crazy by her husband Joe. This is a Shirley Bradshaw that is worn out, she lacks vitality and presence even saying during some particularly boring dinner conversation “It’s a good job we’re not having soup, or else I’d put me head in it and drown meself.
” Through the course of her mundane routine she has spent so much time living for her family and “running around like “R-2-bleedin’-D-2″ that she has forgotten how to live for herself. The outside world, foreign to her own intimidates her like when she says: “Those travel sickness pills mustn’t be working. I still feel sick and I’ve taken four already. And I’ve only travelled up and down the stairs. ’ It is through her trip to Greece however an almost entirely new character begins to emerge.
For the first time the audience witnesses Shirley embracing adventure and most importantly making decisions for herself and with the confidence to do so; perhaps the most contrasting characteristic of her former persona. Whereas before she literally ate the same things on a weekly rotation, she tries octopus with Joe no longer there to stifle new things. Not only does she stand up for her opinions and defends the Greeks when British tourist start putting them down but for her dreams as well telling Joe: “what I want is to stay here and be Shirley Valentine”.
Shirley has “fallen in love with the idea of living” again as she tells her friend Jane, but only as a result of the tremendous personal growth she has gone through. Through her incredible journey and sharp contrast of character the audience not only leaves inspired by the significance and importance of personal growth but also establishes it as a major theme in the play. Another theme is the theme of human potential.
Throughout the course of the play Willy Russell constantly uses flashbacks that provide the audience with a deeper understanding of Shirley, both through revealing her thoughts and the events that helped shape her. The glimpse into her past reveals a dramatically different character then the tepid one presented. It shows a much more assertive, confident and daring individual then the present Shirley Valentine who reveals in the past: “I became a rebel. I used to wear my school skirt so high you would have thought it was a serviette.
I was marvelous. ” In relation to her school nemesis Marjory Majors Shirley comments that despite bullying her, all the time she wanted to be just like her: smart and well regarded by teachers. As her life goes on however she becomes discouraged by a spiteful teacher and doesn’t continue her education, instead settling into a marriage with a boy named Joe. Although in the same way, it starts off well, through a series of flashbacks the audience sees a relationship more and more lack luster.
Shirley has multiple things to say about marriage saying things like “I think that marriage is like the Middle East – there’s no solution” and “He used to love me because I was a nutcase. Now he just thinks I am a nutcase. ” She’s no longer satisfied with her relationships even missing having an old laugh with her mates, “Ah, there were great those mates. ” To put it simply education, marriage and friendship are all areas Shirley is missing out on in life and why she needs to travel to Greece in the first place.
There she meets Costas who although is not a serious relationship is an example of a relationship she has the power to possess, one filled with meaningful conversation, laughter and light-heartedness From her youth she is a woman who is capable of all these things just not one who is living up to her potential until she makes the decision to do so. Shirley herself says “I’ve led such a little life. And even that will be over pretty soon. I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be.
Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don’t ever use them? That’s where Shirley Valentine disappeared to. She got lost in all this unused life. ” Shirley questioning this concept not only proposes the same one to the audience and what leads people to live the lives they lead but lends itself to the value of using it as well. Shirley is no longer a sad, disappointed woman but is now the women who can and has taken charge of her future. The use of her potential is not only personal but physical as well, further emphasizing her capabilities.
Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine is a play about growth, about dreams and the inner strength it takes to go after them. Shirley Bradshaw`s transformation to Shirley Valentine not only shows the tremendous amount of personal growth she goes through from many examples from the play but in contrast to her younger self it gives insight into how maybe all along it`s in the person to begin with. With dynamic characters, satire and insights that reflect not only on the storyline but to the decisions someone might make in their own life, Shirley Valentine is both a play with powerful messages as well as applications.
Courtney from Study Moose
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