Churchill has successfully used the postmodern displacement of time to dramatize the sacrifices made by women in business and in the society. The first scene opens with a dinner party at a restaurant to celebrate the success of Marlene, the central character , in her profession. Many legendary women including Pope Joan, the world traveler Isabella Bird and the Japanese courtesan Nijo attend the party.
Marlene is a highly successful career woman who has become the General Manager of an employment agency called 'Top Girls' Acutely ambitious, she has achieved power and prestige in a male dominated territory by abandoning her social responsibilities. In this, she is like Isabella, who is a world traveler in an age where traveling abroad was mostly a male prerogative. Traveling the world, Isabella too has sacrificed her social responsibilities. Isabella wears trousers because she "feels like it".(Churchill 29) , and refuses to "live the life of a lady".(Churchill 29) Marlene too does not' live like a lady' as her choice of food and her dominating attitude indicate. Marlene's story has a parallel with the stories of Pope Joan, Griselda and Nijo, all of whom had to give up or abandon their children. While Marlene does it voluntarily, the other women are forced to do it.
Joyce is Marlene's supposedly sterile sister who has adopted Marlene's daughter Angie. There is a troubled relationship between Joyce and Angie, with the latter hating her supposed mother and the former nursing a resentment against Angie. Joyce thinks that she lost her unborn child because of the difficulties of raising Angie. Joyce can be compared to Pope Joan who was stoned to death with her child.
In scene three of Act I, Angie is hiding from Joyce with her friend Kit when Kit says,"Do you want to watch the Exterminator'" (Churchill 45) The Exterminator can be linked to Joyce who is hated by Angie. Joyce's story has a parallel in the story of Nijo, who had to give up her own children to please the Emperor, whom she hated. Motherhood, which is the natural right of a woman,is sacrificed by these women.
The sixteen year old Angie is a troubled adolescent . Both her adopted as well as natural mothers consider her to be less than intelligent. Marlene says, "She is not going to make it" (Churchill 66), while Angie idolizes her aunt Marlene. Angie can be compared to the inarticulate Dull Gret, who, clad in an armour and apron, leads an army of women to battle. Angie, though considered dull, manages to go to her aunt's office. This shocks Marlene, who asks in astonishment, "How did you get past the receptionist '" (66) Angie has sacrificed her whole career by giving up her intelligence.
Success comes to woman only through sacrifice. Only those women who give up something very valuable can become 'Top Girls'. To achieve power and position, a woman might have to sacrifice her relationships, even her identity as a woman as evidenced in the case of Marlene and Isabella. A top girl might have to renounce her ability to procreate. She can achieve her goal in a negative way by sacrificing her intelligence . To accomplish anything, be it professional or social, the top girl has to give up a part of herself in a male dominated society.
Churchill, Caryl. Top Girls : London: Methuen Student Edition