Analysis of Progress by St. John Ervine as One Act Play

"Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war."-John Milton (1608 - 1674)



“Progress” by St. John Greer Ervine is a successful specimen of a one act play. It has not only a unity of theme (the abolition of war) the unities of time; place and action are also meticulously maintained. Thematically, “Progress”   is written against the background of the First World War in which thousands were butchered and many more became disabled for life. It left many mothers   childless and incredible number of widows and orphans. This insensible devastation has created diverse reactions in social thinking, and “Progress” by the Irish playwright St. John Greer Ervine is just the product of one of the strongest of these sentiments, namely the anti-war feeling of the post war modern age

Through the basic conflict between two ideas- the point of view of the war mongering arm dealers (represented through the character of Proof. Corrie) and that of the peace loving universal mothers of our house (represented by Mrs. Meldon) the drama has also sufficiently exposed the motive behind wars –which is to perpetuate and extend the class interest the of the war –mongering imperialists and exploiters, who sit safe and secure –far behind the fighting lines, when the poor sacrifice their lives in the trenches. The conflict is finally resolved in favour of the latter point of view through the murder of Proof.   Corrie-peace here affirms itself through a little violence; true progress, it seems, necessitates the destruction of the means of destruction. Indeed, there is a tragic severity in the revelation of Mrs.Meldon’s austere and unfathomed bereavement, which is at the same time heart –rending and awe –inspiring. Read More Drama

St. John Greer Ervine
Again, we have only three characters, and though the different stages of structural development are skillfully maintained, the action-free from anything extraneous or redundant-rushes headlong to the crisis from the very stage of the exposition. There is a surprise turn of events in the denouement, and Prof. Corrie’s murder by his sister, though tragic, is highly dramatic.  At the outset, we find Professor Corrie is talking excitedly about his destructive bomb and is busy with his experiment.  He is happy and proud as his experiment has proved a success.  His sister Mrs. Meldon is grief – stricken as she has lost her only son Eddie in the First World War.  Read More Drama She lost her husband also in the war.  Corrie advises her not to think about the past. Corrie rejoices over his invention as it can destroy a vast city in a few seconds.  He says that his invention will make war in future over in a few hours.  He is also proud that the success of the war will depend on who strikes first and what kind of weapons he uses.  Mrs. Meldon gently reminds him that his invention will lead to the death of hundreds of young men like her son Eddie.  But he ignores her words and gloats over his invention and the fame and wealth.  He says that he will sell his bomb to the government which grants him the highest amount of money. When Mrs. Meldon is convinced that her brother will not suppress his invention at any cost, she decides to do away with him along with his invention.  She destroys the sheets of paper on which Corrie has written the formulae.  Read More Drama But Corrie is not upset.  He says that the formulae remain embedded in his brain and he can reproduce them easily. Mrs. Meldon cannot tolerate his inhumanity any more.  When he stoops to pick up the sheets, she stabs him on the back with a knife and kills him.  She feels that this is justifiable revenge against the murderer of her son on the occasion of his death anniversary.




Though essentially a one-act play, Ervine’s “progress” thus leaves a lasting effect of a full length drama. Since the play has little physical action, the interest of the play is maintained by its sharp dialogue, conveying the ideological conflict of the characters. Each character has his or own individual manner and style of speech, keeping parity with the character’s bent of mind and point of view. Read More Drama The playwright, who mainly wrote for the Abbey theatre Dublin amply shows his good knowledge of stage technique. The drama may also have an autobiographical element, as the dramatist too had to go to war and face its horrors and atrocities. In fact he was severely wounded in France and eventually lost his leg. 

        Ardhendu De

Image Courtesy: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw116565/St-John-Greer-Ervine