She Stoops to Conquer shows the effect of parenting on a child’s character, even once that child becomes an adult. The play suggests that parents who smother their children, as well as parents who do not participate much in their children’s upbringing, tend to raise children who are not fully prepared for adulthood, or who reject their parents’ values. By allowing a child some freedom, but also remaining involved in the child’s life, a parent gives a child confidence while also earning their child’s gratitude and respect.
The dangers of smothering a child are on display in the relationship between Mrs. Hardcastle and her son Tony. Even though Tony is perfectly healthy, his mother has always treated him like a sick child in need of her constant care and nursing. As a result, she has kept Tony from receiving the education that would have been standard for most men of his class and he is functionally illiterate. Even though he is an intelligent person, this lack of education sharply limits Tony’s opportunities, making it unlikely that he will ever be able to do anything but live on his inheritance. In addition to crippling his potential, Mrs. Hardcastle’s controlling behavior leads her son to rebel against her. He often escapes to the nearby inn, avoiding his mother and spending time instead with people of a lower social status. He also wants to marry a woman who, based on his description, sounds like she is probably from a lower class background. All of Mrs. Hardcastle’s efforts to control her son have made him attracted to places and people she does not approve of. In the end, once Tony becomes an adult, he is determined to entirely reject his mother’s influence. Her overbearing parenting has caused her to lose her son’s respect and, therefore, she has lost her ability to influence or control him.
The dangers of being a distant parent are given less attention than the dangers of coddling, but Marlow’s upbringing hints at the drawbacks of hands-off parenting. Marlow has been educated at a boarding school and he spent the years of his early adulthood travelling abroad. He seems to have never had the social experiences that most young people in the upper class of the era had while living in their parents’ homes: visiting neighbors, attending balls, and participating in other social activities during which young men and women got to know one another. This lack of experience is part of the reason why he feels so shy around any woman who could potentially become his wife. Having received little input from his parents, Marlow still feels that they expect him to have learned how to be a gentleman and he fears that his actual aptitudes will let them down. He follows his father Sir Charles’s command to visit the Hardcastles because he feels it is his duty, but he lacks the confidence to court Kate. By ceding too much independence to their child at too young an age, Marlow’s parents left him without many of the experiences that would have properly socialized him, and he has not become a confident or socially capable adult.
The relationship between Hardcastle and Kate shows how a parent can strike the right balance of influencing and allowing a child freedom. Kate and Hardcastle’s relationship is distinguished by mutual respect and trust. Teenagers and parents fight bitterly over teenagers’ clothes to this day, but instead of fighting, Kate and her father are able to strike a compromise: she dresses as she wants to in the morning, and as he would like her to in the evening. Kate’s trust in her father is demonstrated when Hardcastle tells Kate he has found a man for her to marry. Kate does not take this as a threat to force her into a life she does not want; even before her father tells her he would not force her to marry anyone she didn’t like, Kate knows and trusts her father enough to know that he would never do this. Hardcastle also shows his trust in Kate. When he sees Marlow (who believes at the time that Kate is a barmaid) grab Kate and try to kiss her, Hardcastle is tempted to throw Marlow out of his house. But Kate ultimately convinces her father to trust her that Marlow is not as bad as he seems to be. Worried, he asks her to promise that she will be open with him, and Kate replies, “I hope, sir, you have ever found that I considered your commands as my pride; for your kindness is such, that my duty as yet has been inclination.” This statement epitomizes the healthy relationship between this father and daughter; Kate never wants to disobey her father, because the kindness he shows her has always made her want to do what he says. The final proof of Hardcastle’s successful parenting of Kate is her maturity, self-confidence, and good character. Kate wants to marry exactly the man her father would have chosen for her, because she respects and shares his values. He has succeeded in imparting them to her while also showing trust in her own discretion and intellect.
The play shows what a delicate balance parents must strike to raise independent children who have confidence in themselves and trust in their parents, and who share the values their parents wanted to pass on. However, the play does not suggest that only a perfect person can be a good person. Hardcastle is eccentric: he only cares for old-fashioned things and hardly leaves his home in the country. He can also be brash and, in moments of anxiety, he can forget to show Kate that he trusts in her judgment. However, since he has shown Kate concern, love, and attention mixed with a deep trust in her growing capacity to make her own decisions, Hardcastle has succeeded in raising a daughter who listens to him with respect, but is capable of confidently making choices for herself as an adult.
Parents and Children ThemeTracker
Parents and Children Quotes in She Stoops to Conquer
TONY. No offence; but question for question is all fair, you know. Pray, gentlemen, is not this same Hardcastle a cross-grained, old-fashioned, whimsical fellow, with an ugly face, a daughter, and a pretty son?
HASTINGS. We have not seen the gentleman; but he has the family you mention.
TONY. The daughter, a tall, trapesing, trolloping, talkative maypole; the son, a pretty, well-bred, agreeable youth, that everybody is fond of.
MARLOW. Our information differs in this. The daughter is said to be well-bred and beautiful; the son an awkward booby, reared up and spoiled at his mother's apron-string.
TONY. He-he-hem!—Then, gentlemen, all I have to tell you is, that you won't reach Mr. Hardcastle's house this night, I believe.
TONY. It's a damn'd long, dark, boggy, dirty, dangerous way. Stingo, tell the gentlemen the way to Mr. Hardcastle's! (Winking upon the Landlord.) Mr. Hardcastle's, of Quagmire Marsh, you understand me.
HASTINGS. You have lived very much among them. In truth, I have been often surprised, that you who have seen so much of the world, with your natural good sense, and your many opportunities, could never yet acquire a requisite share of assurance.
MARLOW. The Englishman's malady. But tell me, George, where could I have learned that assurance you talk of? My life has been chiefly spent in a college or an inn, in seclusion from that lovely part of the creation that chiefly teach men confidence. I don't know that I was ever familiarly acquainted with a single modest woman—except my mother—But among females of another class, you know—
HASTINGS. Ay, among them you are impudent enough of all conscience.
MARLOW. They are of us, you know.
HARDCASTLE. If he be what he has shown himself, I'm determined he shall never have my consent.
MISS HARDCASTLE. And if he be the sullen thing I take him, he shall never have mine.
HARDCASTLE. In one thing then we are agreed—to reject him.
MISS HARDCASTLE. Yes: but upon conditions. For if you should find him less impudent, and I more presuming—if you find him more respectful, and I more importunate—I don't know—the fellow is well enough for a man—Certainly, we don't meet many such at a horse-race in the country.
HARDCASTLE. If we should find him so——But that's impossible. The first appearance has done my business. I'm seldom deceived in that.
MISS HARDCASTLE. And yet there may be many good qualities under that first appearance.
HARDCASTLE. Ay, when a girl finds a fellow's outside to her taste, she then sets about guessing the rest of his furniture. With her, a smooth face stands for good sense, and a genteel figure for every virtue.
MISS HARDCASTLE. I hope, sir, a conversation begun with a compliment to my good sense, won't end with a sneer at my understanding?
HARDCASTLE. Pardon me, Kate. But if young Mr. Brazen can find the art of reconciling contradictions, he may please us both, perhaps.
HARDCASTLE. I tell you, sir, I'm serious! and now that my passions are roused, I say this house is mine, sir; this house is mine, and I command you to leave it directly.
MARLOW. Ha! ha! ha! A puddle in a storm. I shan't stir a step, I assure you. (In a serious tone.) This your house, fellow! It's my house. This is my house. Mine, while I choose to stay. What right have you to bid me leave this house, sir? I never met with such impudence, curse me; never in my whole life before.
HARDCASTLE. Nor I, confound me if ever I did. To come to my house, to call for what he likes, to turn me out of my own chair, to insult the family, to order his servants to get drunk, and then to tell me, This house is mine, sir. By all that's impudent, it makes me laugh. Ha! ha! ha! Pray, sir (bantering), as you take the house, what think you of taking the rest of the furniture? There's a pair of silver candlesticks, and there's a fire-screen, and here's a pair of brazen-nosed bellows; perhaps you may take a fancy to them?
MARLOW. Bring me your bill, sir; bring me your bill, and let's make no more words about it.
HARDCASTLE. There are a set of prints, too. What think you of the Rake's Progress, for your own apartment?
MARLOW. So then, all's out, and I have been damnably imposed on. O, confound my stupid head, I shall be laughed at over the whole town. I shall be stuck up in caricatura in all the print-shops. The Dullissimo Macaroni. To mistake this house of all others for an inn, and my father's old friend for an innkeeper! What a swaggering puppy must he take me for! What a silly puppy do I find myself! There again, may I be hanged, my dear, but I mistook you for the bar-maid!
MISS HARDCASTLE. Yes, sir, that very identical tall squinting lady you were pleased to take me for. (Curtseying.) She that you addressed as the mild, modest, sentimental man of gravity, and the bold, forward, agreeable Rattle of the Ladies' Club. Ha! ha! ha!
MARLOW. Zounds! there's no bearing this; it's worse than death!
MISS HARDCASTLE. In which of your characters, sir, will you give us leave to address you? As the faltering gentleman, with looks on the ground, that speaks just to be heard, and hates hypocrisy; or the loud confident creature, that keeps it up with Mrs. Mantrap, and old Miss Biddy Buckskin, till three in the morning? Ha! ha! ha!
MARLOW. O, curse on my noisy head. I never attempted to be impudent yet, that I was not taken down. I must be gone.
HARDCASTLE. By the hand of my body, but you shall not. I see it was all a mistake, and I am rejoiced to find it. You shall not, sir, I tell you. I know she'll forgive you. Won't you forgive him, Kate? We'll all forgive you. Take courage, man. (They retire, she tormenting him, to the back scene.)
HASTINGS. (To HARDCASTLE.) For my late attempt to fly off with your niece let my present confusion be my punishment. We are now come back, to appeal from your justice to your humanity. By her father’s consent, I first paid her my addresses, and our passions were first founded in duty.
MISS NEVILLE. Since his death, I have been obliged to stoop to dissimulation to avoid oppression. In an hour of levity, I was ready to give up my fortune to secure my choice. But I am now recovered from the delusion, and hope from your tenderness what is denied me from a nearer connection.
MRS. HARDCASTLE. Pshaw, pshaw! this is all but the whining end of a modern novel.