The play Shirley Valentine was written by an author named Willy Russell and adapted into a feature film. He set it in Liverpool because this city summed up the attitude of working class men to their wives. The wives were expected to stay at home, cook their husbands meals, look after the children etc, while the husbands went out and worked and provided the finances. Liverpool is a typical northern working class town.
It was a good statement for the beginning of the film.
Shirley Valentine was a housewife, meaning she didn’t work. Her role was being a mother, who cooked and cleaned for her husband and children.
Housewife means a woman who works at home and relies on her husband’s financial support. Therefore she was a working person but without a salary and her work place was the home.
On page 2, scene 2, it shows how being a housewife isn’t a perfect lifestyle. Shirley is talking to the wall, and drinking through the day, indicating that she is bored, lonely and doesn’t have a very good social life:
“There’s a woman three doors down the road – talks to her microwave! Wall, what’s the world coming to?”
When Shirley drinks through the day, it shows that she is really quite depressed and that the alcohol actually took her away from the dull predicament that she was in. This appears to have been quite common in housewives during the 1980s.
By 6 o’clock, Shirley’s in the kitchen preparing Joe’s dinner and talking to the wall, “Do you know what i would like to do wall…” This clearly shows that she is desperate and using the wall to replace her absent social life, and perhaps the lack of communication that has now built up between her and her husband.
Joe and Shirley were a happy couple, they both had fun and were carefree and extravagant. There was a lot of humour between them just like any other newly wed couple.
As the film goes on, the fun disappears and Joe has become a lot more distant from Shirley, and doesn’t respect her like he used to. Unfortunately, she has become neglected and taken for granted.
Joe’s treatment of Shirley as a stereotypical housewife is very obvious to see. He expects his dinner to be ready on time when he sits down after work and everything to be precise. If the dinner is not ready her husband makes nasty comments stating that she is ‘Around the bend’. He also makes gestures and snaps at her for example:
“He jabs his finger in his plate “Well I’m not eating this, I’m not eating shite!”
By saying this, we can see that Joe’s attitude has completely changed towards Shirley, and that he expects to be fed a certain meal on a certain night. This certainly shows that he isn’t treating her respectively like he used to and the fun has now gone out of their marriage.
When Shirley escapes to Greece, Joe does everything he can to get her back, he even says he will go over there:
“He’s coming’ to fetch me, to take me back home – God love him, he must have been watching Rambo.”
Shirley jokes about Joe coming to get her, because she knows that he probably wont or that he wont be pleased to see her. Shirley knows that Joe wont be able to just bring her back.
She has now become an independent woman and can handle being on her own.
One of Shirley’s kids, Millandra, comes back home because she has had a fall out with a friend. She doesn’t ask Shirley’s permission to come back but just barges in and leaves her luggage outside the front door for Shirley to pick up. Even the daughter treats Shirley like her husband. This happens just as Shirley was going to leave for her holiday. Shirley’s ideal holiday is also slowly falling to pieces.
“Mother I’ve come back to live with you, will you make me some cocoa and toast like you used to? I’m going up to me room.”
Shirley doesn’t say anything until she sits down beside Millandra when she has made her a perfect cocoa. You can tell that Shirley was raring to go and live her dream, but there’s always something holding her back.
When Joe is moaning about Shirley being in Greece, his son Brian sums up what he thinks of him, and this eventually persuades Joe to go and win Shirley back.
“Your frightened of anything that’s different dad.”
Brian is telling Joe the truth, and Joe finally realises that he is right, and the only thing he can do to win Shirley back is to go to Greece and find her himself.
The ending scene
In the beginning, Shirley Valentine played the housewife and accepted her role although she was not happy about it. After her experience abroad, she found a new lease of life and realised what she had actually been missing. She found that there was more to life than a routine evolved around her husband and that she had her own personality which she could not show as a housewife.
This new confident person that arose from her previous life was totally unrecognisable to her husband. He had taken her for granted and did not realise how much of a free thinking woman that he had married.
Further more, the contrast between her dull mundane existence as a housewife in Liverpool could not be greater than the fresh healthy lifestyle in Greece, where she was allowed to blossom as a thinking woman without prejudice.
As a character, I think Shirley Valentine did the right thing going to Greece and becoming a real woman. She couldn’t do this with her demanding husband in the way. I could also see her true character come out only when she wasn’t around Joe. He had prevented this for a long time and it took a trip away from him for Shirley to realise it.
As for the ending, I think that Shirley enjoyed her time away and re-discovered herself. She would not have gone back with Joe, but he could have stayed with her in Greece. I think that is what he did.
As he didn’t recognise her, I think that he could now see that she no longer needed him and she has done so well without him. This would have made him rethink his attitude towards her and their marriage.
Shirley Valentine’s role in the beginning of the play was typical of a housewife, who was not appreciated and expected to provide the home comforts for her husband without having any life of her own. She was bored but at the same time frightened to break out of the routine. This situation was made worse by the fact that her children had left home and no longer provided a distraction from the boredom. Her unhappiness may have been partly responsible for her husbands grumpiness, but it was obvious that he had taken her for granted. His action over being served a wrong meal on a day that he should have had a steak is a good example of his attitude.
By the time he realised how much he missed her and loved her, Shirley Valentine had already rediscovered herself in Greece. By going to Greece he hoped that he could win her back.