The Winslow Boy


Terence Rattigan

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Themes and Colors
Principles and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Women and Patriarchy Theme Icon
Media and Spectacle Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Winslow Boy, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Principles and Sacrifice

Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy is the story of a family that sacrifices everything in order to uphold the “truth.” Ronnie Winslow, the boy of the title, is expelled from his Navy College for allegedly stealing a postal order worth just five shillings. Arthur, the boy’s domineering father, trusts in his son’s moral integrity and is willing to go to any length to defend it. The Winslows ultimately win the ensuing court case…

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Over the course of the play’s two-year timeline, the Winslow family is placed under increasing pressure, both financial and social, by the ongoing saga of Ronnie’s case. The play, then, creates a kind of microscope in which to explore the way that a family operates under stress. One way this plays out focuses around the normally domineering family patriarch, Arthur, who, much to his family’s surprise, reacts protectively, rather than angrily, to the…

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Women and Patriarchy

The position of women in society is an important theme in The Winslow Boy that plays out almost entirely in the background of the main action yet still feels highly relevant today. Though several bills to give women the vote were looked at in the British parliament between 1910 and 1912—the year at the start of the play—none of them were passed. Women were essentially second-class citizens at the time: rape within marriage was not…

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Media and Spectacle

Throughout the play Rattigan shows the complex relationship between the private and public sphere, underlining the toll public spectacle takes on people. In defending Ronnie, the Winslows have to take on the Navy itself. And because the Navy is part of the Crown (essentially the State), they have to appeal to get special permission from the King to pursue the case. Without getting too technical, the Winslow case argues that a democracy’s constitution must…

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