Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Vinegar Tom and the Feminist Revolution

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It is Churchill’s feminist play that we see a harsh mistreatment of the woman of the witch hunts of Britain. In 1976, Caryl Churchill’s release of her famous play Vinegar Tom comes to the forefront of critics of Britain and examines the gender and power relationships from the perspective of women accused of being witches in the 17th century.

The play follows Alice, a woman living in a small village in her twenties. Alice and her mother have been accused of witchcraft after an argument with their neighbors and explores the path of both Alice and her mother through their trials and their inability to conform to society at the time. The play acts are filled with songs that discuss aspects of conformity and diversity surrounding any culture.

“In Vinegar Tom, Churchill attempts to not only deconstruct the subjugation of women, especially with respect of class issues, but also create a psychological realism and multiple subjectivities for her female characters. One of the ways she does this is through the structural manipulation of time frames.” She recognizes the structuring of time as a symbolic social act, where the perpetuation of linearity and causality mystifies the authorship of history and gender. This manipulation serves to alienate the spectator.”(
Khozaei, Gender Politics and Deconstruction of Patriarchy in Caryl Churchill’s Selected Plays, Pg.575)

The playwright Churchill, an influential feminist author who writes this from inspiration from the Women’s Right Act of 1970, writing this as a social critic of inequality at the time. It is in Churchill’s writing that we see this as a moment in time capturing on the cusp of a feminism revolution.

In a world where momentum is advancement for all genders and races, we see that the 1970’s was the start of a revolution for a feminist revolution in England and the world. Culturally, America can relate to this movement of advancement from the 1970’s following this ideal of a 1950’s “Nuclear Family” in America and England and the turbulent 1960’s of a revolution in America the 1970’s was a time of civil unrest for our own cultural reference.

The world itself was becoming smaller, with advancing relations, technology, and culture from America and England we see a world beginning to become smaller. Vinegar Tom was important in capturing the sentiment of this 70’s revolution in England. The 1970’s Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 that worked to establish equal treatment between both men and women for Pay and conditions for working. It was passed as a reaction to the Ford Sewing Machinist Strike of 1968. The Machinist strike was a major impact within the UK as women sewing machinist stopped creating essential seat covers which eventually lead to a major production shut down of cars. This was the start of the feminist revolution for the UK. Later influencing legislation for equal pay, this was a culture shock for a stricter Europe at the time.

Churchill’s song in her play were set in a modern setting and allowed the audience to relate to the plight of the characters in the 17th century. The songs dealt with conformity, struggles to be different, and to stand alone from each other.  The importance of these songs are a way of displaying the problems with conformity in a society and gender relations between men and women and the structure of inferiority for many women in England.

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