Like Nora, Churchill’s Marlene finds herself in a male-dominated world, but Marlene rejects the patriarchal assumptions of that world much earlier in her life than Nora does. Churchill provides a long foreground in scene I of the first act by presenting a group of women ranging from Joan, who posed as a man to become pope, to lady Nijo, who was a thirteenth- century Japanese courtesan.
These women discuss their varied troubled relationships with men in different times and cultures to reveal that all of them suffered injustices perpetrated by male assumptions, values, and actions. These women also demonstrate resilience and the ability to adapt to their circumstances so that they become the “top girls” of their time. Marlene’s toast establishes the connection we are to make between her and these earlier women: “we’ve all come a long way. To our courage and the way we changed our lives and our extraordinary achievements.”
Churchill, however, is less congratulatory than Marlene. for though the rest of the play explores many of the issues that self determined women must face in our times-economic exploration, job discrimination, upward mobility, and so on – Churchill makes clear that women can be ruthless and selfish in their efforts to climb to the top as men. when Ibsen has Nora close the door on her husband and children, we know that her decision is as painful as it is necessary, but when we learn of Marlene’s abandonment of Angie and her cold assessment of her daughter as one of those who is “not going to make it”, we are reminded more of Torvald’s insensibility than of Nora’s absolute need to become human.
Marlene is a tough-minded, enthusiastic supporter of the conservatism associated with Thatcher and Reagan because she believes that they too have no tolerance for the “stupid or lazy or frightened”. Her personal life and political values reveal that she pledges her allegiance only to the survival of the fitter. Rather than rejecting the rapaciousness and exploitation of the male world she’s worked her way into she simply want to make sure that she’s in a position of power. As her sister Joyce points out, Marlene thinks of nothing but herself, and as Angie inadvertently sums up in the final lines, Marlene is “frightened”.