The Silver Box Critical Analysis

The Silver Box by John Galsworthy-Critical Analysis

The Silver Box Critical Analysis : John Galsworthy, one of the renowned novelist and playwright, occupies a significant place in the arena of twentieth century literature. His first play “The Silver Box” was composed in 1905 and staged on 25 September 1906 at the Court Theatre, London.

“The Silver Box” is John Galsworthy’s most discussed and controversial problem play which unveils disparity, discrimination, snobbery, and hypocrisy in society. It comments on various social and moral issues like poverty inequality, and unemployment in society just like his other famous play “Justice” published in 1910. John Galsworthy followed the footprints of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen in focusing social evils and problems in society.


The Silver Box Critical Analysis

Galsworthy’s play “The Silver Box” comprises three Acts. It deals with the theme of the unequal operation of the law as between rich and poor. The action of the first two Acts takes place on Easter Tuesday while the action of the third Act occurs on Wednesdays, the following week in 1906. The first scene of “The Silver Box’ is set in John Barthwick’s dining room, at Rockingham GateLondon.


Like the other ‘dramas of ideas’ of the twentieth century, Galsworthy’s play “The Silver Box” deals with social and moral themes. The two great playwrights, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw and J.B. Priestley expressed their revolutionary ideas through their problem plays. But with the publication of “The Silver Box” the literary world perceived an emergence of a new dramatist with his novel style and attitude of his own.

According to John Galsworthy, his aim was to create such an illusion of actual life passing on the stage as to compel the spectator to pass through an experience of his own, think and talk, and move with the people he sees thinking and talking and moving in front of him.

Nature of the Two Cases of Two Thefts:

John Galsworthy’s play “The Silver Box” is a play about theft of the silver ‘cigarette box’; you may call it a play about two thefts. The first theft is of a handkerchief and a crimson-silk purse by Jack Barthwick; and then the second is about the silver cigarette box by Mr. Jones. But there is a difference between the natures of the two thefts. The first theft occurs in order to settle an a score whereas the second occurs out of need.

The first theft is done by a son of a rich man whereas the second is by a poor and unemployed man who is looking to get job in order to earn his livelihood. But unfortunately, circumstances compel him to steal a silver cigarette box and deprive him of employment.

Two Parallel Families of Two Different Strata of Society:

In the play “The Silver Box’, the dramatist has employed a favourite device of ‘parallel families’, one rich and the other poor. “The Silver Box” opens with the entry of Jack Barthwick who comes back home past midnight in a drunken state. Galsworthy has artistically suggested a vast gulf between the life style of the two families. One family is rich, educated, well-to-do, and belongs to elite class whereas the other is poverty-stricken and in distress. It does not have proper means to earn livelihood.

Comparison and Contrast between Jack Barthwick and Mr. Jones:

Galsworthy has skillfully delineated the character of Jack Barthwick which enters the scene at the very beginning of the play. He has been described as the son of John Barthwick, the Member of Parliament. Jack Barthwick is so drunk that he could not even open the front door of the house. But he manages to enter the house with the help of Mr. James Jones, husband of a charwoman, Mrs. Jane Jones, an uninvited man. Mr. Jones enters the house with Jack Barthwick without permission.

In the very beginning of the play, John Galsworthy has depicted a contrast between Jack and Mr. Jones. They represent two groups of society, the rich and the poor. Jack Barthwick has been portrayed as a son of a rich man and a politician, who is spoilt by his richness while Mr. Jones has been depicted as an unemployed young man who is in search of employment. In his conversation with his wife, the readers come to know that he is frustrated and disillusioned by the way of the world and social system.

As Mr. Jones is out of job, he is greatly disturbed by his unemployment and desperately looking for a job; he drinks heavily due to his unemployment and inability to find proper solution to his problem while Jack has been portrayed as an irresponsible and reckless young man who drinks and spends money for fun and entertainment.

Jack Barthwick tells Mr. Jones that he is a son of John Barthwick who is member of the Parliament of Liberal Party. Mr. Jones tells Jack that he is a Conservative. Jack thinks that everyone is equal before the law in sardonic tone. It clearly indicates that Jack is not a socialist and he does not support and favour equality.

According to Jack Barthwick, equality in society is a silly idea. Jack further tells Jones that he has settled some old scores with a lady. He entered the house with a handkerchief and with a crimson-silk purse which he has robbed from a lady. Jack asks Jones to serve some more whisky. Jack calls him a Tory socialist. Both Jones and Jack drink heavily. After some time, Jack feels dizzy and falls asleep.

At present, Jones is all alone in the drawing-room; he picks up a purse from Jack’s shirt pocket. He also sniffs a crimson purse and puts it back again into Jack’s breast pocket. Having devoured some more whisky from a bottle, Jones finds another purse lying on the floor and the silver cigarette box. Jones grabs them and put them into his pockets.

While leaving the room, he gives a sardonic smile and leaves the place. As his shoulder rubs against the switch, the light of the room goes out. Here at this point, the first scene of the play ends. The first act is full of action with the entry of Jack Barthwick and Mr. Jones on the scene though it is an hour of mid-night.

The Second scene of the First Act of “The Silver Box” opens in Barthwicks’ dining-room. Jack Barthwick is still lying in the sofa. Mrs. Jones, a charwoman and wife to Mr. Jones, enters the room with a dust-pan accompanied by Wheeler, a maid-servant. Wheeler informs Mrs. Jones that her husband Mr. Jones was looking for her after departure from the Barthwicks’ house last evening. He also waited for her at the corner of the street. Wheeler expresses her view that she would not have lived with Mr. Jones if she had been in her place.

Mrs. Jones Physical Appearance and her responsibility:

Galsworthy has delineated the character sketch of Mrs. Jones with care and precision. She has been described as a slender, dark-haired, pale, and oval-faced woman. It implies that she is form the working class. She has got smooth voice with politeness. It indicates her nature and character.

Mrs. Jones tells Wheeler that Mr. Jones has been very rude to her whenever he is in a drunken state. She knows that he has been looking for a job; and when his search for a job goes in vain he drinks a lot, gets disturbed and disappointed. In fury and frustration he expresses his anger at home and misbehaves. Mrs. Jones is scared of him when he comes home in this state of mind. She does not have courage to separate form him or lodge a complaint against him to the police.

Wheeler suggests Mrs. Jones to report the matter to the police but she tells him that Mr. Jones is jobless; and has been searching for job for the last two month. She further tells Wheeler that when Jones is in work he is completely a different man and behaves properly.

Mrs. Jones spends sleepless nights whenever her husband if out of work. She is the only person in the house who earns livelihood; and takes care of the family. She is often threatened by Mr. Jones in a drunken state that he would cut her throat if she leaves him. He also suspects Mrs. Jones that she has been engaged with someone. Despite of all the flaws and shortcomings of her husband, she hopes that Mr. Jones is not a bad person.

When Mrs. Jones and Wheeler find Jack Barthwick lying on the sofa they come to know that he was tipsy last night. Wheeler sarcastically remarks that it is another kind of unemployment that makes the spoilt young man to drink. When Jack wakes up he asks both of them not tell that they found him asleep in the drawing room.

Mrs. Jones tells Marlowe that Mr. Jones arrived late at night; and he was heavily drunk and abusive and is important to note that Mr. Jones has recently lost the job of a groom because of Mrs. Jones that agitates him. She also tells Marlow that she has to continue her work because she has three children.

Marlow’s discovery of the lost Silver Box and suspicion:

When Mrs. Jones is busy sweeping the room, it is Marlow who notices the absence of the silver cigarette box. He suspects Mrs. Jones and finds half-smoked-cigarettes in the room. When Wheeler enters the room, Marlow asks Mrs. Jones whether she has found a silver box. He also tells her that he kept it on the tray the last night. The scene ends with a suspicious looks of Marlow and Wheeler at Mrs. Jones.

Political views of John and Mrs. Barhtwick:

The third Scene of the first Act of the play opens in the dining-room of Barthwicks house where Mr. John Barthwick and his wife sitting at the breakfast table. They are engaged in discussing politics.

Mrs. Barthwick considers the Socialists and Labour parties as rivals to the Liberals and Conservatives. She has little faith in social policy of the period. She thinks that the socialists and Labour party have no feeling of patriotism. They only like to get what the Liberals and the Socialists have.

According Mr. Barthwick, there should be representation of every social class and party in the Parliament. It is necessary for social reform. Mrs. Barthwick thinks that the Socialist and Labour parties will tax everything when they get a chance in the Parliament. She opines the Liberals and Conservatives should come together in order to oppose the socialist and labour ideologies. She finds no difference between the two ideologies of the Liberals and Conservatives.

But Mr. John Barthwick thinks that the alliance between Liberals and Conservatives is not possible because Liberal Party believes in the fundamental rights of people. The discussion comes to end with his views.

Mrs. Barthwick further expresses her views that education has ruined the lower classes and she does not believe in social reform. She also finds enormous change the attitude of the working class.

John Barthwick receives a letter from the bank informing him about the bounced cheque drawn by Jack Barthwick. Jack tried to overdraw money from the bank. Mrs. Barthwick thinks that the “Moss and Sons, Tailors” must have issued the cheque as it is acquainted with their social position.

Mr. John Barthwick rebukes Jack for obtaining money from the bank knowing that it could not pay him money and he reproaches his son for his reckless attitude. Jack is of the opinion that his father has lot of money and he is his heir. Mr. Barthwick tears the letter into pieces and throws tehm into the fireplace expressing his authority and higher status.

The Lady’s Arrival:

The young lady arrives at the Barthwicks with a complaint about Jack. She is waiting at the doors. Her arrival creates disturbance in the house. Marlow informs Barthwick about her arrival and ushers her in the house. The lady tells Mr. Barthwick that she wants to see John Barthwick. John Galsworthy has portrayed her as a young lady with dark eyes and good figure clad in shabby plain clothes. She has put on a black and white hat.

As she enters the drawing room of Barthwick she gets nervous. The lady tells Barthwick about her intention to meet his son Jack. She reports Barthwick that his son robbed her of a crimson silk purse containing seven pounds and twelve shillings by force last night. She kept the money in the reticule of the purse. She also tells Barthwick about the quarrel she had with his son.

John Barthwick asks Marlow to call Jack Barthwick who is upstairs. When Jack gets in the room he refuses to have any connection to the matter. John Barthwick asks him about the crimson silk purse and the money he has taken. Jack says that he knows nothing about the purse and the money. The lady reminds him that he snatched it away from her last night in a drunken state. She also tells Barthwick that she did not follow Jack last night because she did not want to create a scene there. She demands her money for she has to pay the rent of her lodging. Jack pretends to be innocent.

Jack asks the lady to sit in the chair and stares at her in a queer way. Jack comes back in the room carrying an empty reticule. The lady tells him that she had seven pounds and twelve shillings in the reticule and wants the money back. Jack tells her that he has no money left in his pockets. The lady threatens Jack Barthwick that she would lodge a complaint against him if she does not get her money back.

John Barthwick promises her to give the money and settle her matter. He offers her eight pounds which covers the amount of the crimson purse and carfare. The lady leaves the house with a glint of smile on her face.

Jack is reprimanded by John Barthwick for his indifference and reckless behaviour. He remarks, “You’re one of those who are nuisance to society. You are dangerous!” he considers Jack not a suitable person to be helped.

John Barthwick’s Interrogation of Mrs. Jones:

After the departure of the lady, John Barthwick comes to know about the missing silver box from the house from Marlow. Mr. Barthwick investigates the case of theft of the silver box just as a lawyer does. He asks Mrs. Jones about her family, her husband and her children. The needle of suspicion points at Mrs. Jones because she has recently joined the work at the Barthwicks. Besides that she is in a desultory condition and her husband is also out of work for several months. Barthwick thinks that Mrs. Jones must have stolen the silver box because she is in great need of money. He says: “I hear she is in poor circumstances. If we are not able to do much for them we are bound to have the greatest sympathy with the poor.”

Mrs. Jones clarification to Barthwick that she has not found the silver box I the room while working in the room and she knows nothing about that. Thus the first Act of the play concludes with the investigation of the silver box.

Mr. James Jones’ Frustration, Detective Snow’s appearance, and Mrs. Jones Arrest:

The first scene of the second Act of “The Silver Box” opens with a scene at Mrs. Jones’ lodging in Merthyr Street where Mr. James Jones is lying in his bed. He is still under the influence of liquor. The first scene tells the readers about the frustration, anger and helplessness of Mr. Jones and his inability to find a job which is right. Secondly, the scene also tells the readers about his constant struggle to get a job and his impulsive nature.

When the land lady comes to get the rent of the lodging; Mr. Jones throws a sovereign at his wife and tells her that he has got a surprise package. He also reveals the crimson silk purse which has stolen from Jack Barthwick. Galsworthy has introduced a character of detective Snow in the Second Act.

Mr. Jones tells his wife that he is fed up of searching for job. He says: “Give us a job sir,” – “Take a man on” – “Got a wife and three children”. Sick of it I am!”

He has been trying to get an employment for two months with no result; and he is tired of it. He has also been asked to hold a flag of some party and listen to the speech of an orator without any reward. All his efforts for a job went in vain. He gets disturbed when people look down upon him.

Mr. James Jones frankly tells Mr. Jones that he has picked a crimson sil purse from Mr. Jack Barthwick. He tells her that he is planning to go to Canada leaving a pound behind for her. When Mrs. Jones takes a coat lying on the bed the silver box falls on the floor and she identifies it. She comes to know that it belongs to Jack Barthwick and her husband has stolen it. At the moment, the detective Mr. Snow appears on the scene and arrests Mrs. Jones for the theft of the silver box.

Mrs. Jones tells Mr. Snow that she is not involved in the theft without mentioning the name of her husband. But finally she is arrested by Detective Snow. He has been portrayed as a man with clipped mustaches; and in plain clothes and bowler hat.

John Galsworthy has artistically described the sorry state of a young unemployed man, Mr. Jones and his poor lodging and his broken hopes. He has also unveiled the starvation of the family with the mention of a little stuff Mrs. Jones carries her home for her family, i.e. a small piece of bacon, half a loaf of bread, two onions, and three potatoes for the whole family.

Visit of Detective Snow and Roper, the solicitor at the Barthwicks’ House:

The second Act of the play opens in the dining room of the Barthwicks. Galsworthy has dexterously revealed the hypocrisy, and snobbery of the three members of the Barthwick family along with the desultory condition of the Jones’ family.

The Barthwick family finds faults with the Mr. Jones and her husband whereas they try to hide their own flaws and hypocrisy. They pretend to be generous, kind and benevolent to the poor but in reality they have no respect for the lower-middle class. They want to rid out of the case of theft because their own son is involved in the case of stealing of a crimson silk purse of the lady. They find their reputation at stake. So they want to keep their son, Jack away from the case so that he may not have to face punishment.

The detective tells them about the arrest of Jones’ with a silver box. He also tells them that Mr. Jones has also been arrested for his assault on him. But he makes them clear that the case has become more complex because the police have found money and a crimson silk purse on Mr. Jones. He reports them that Mr. Jones stole the silver box under the influence of liquor. He also cunningly mentions that a young man brought Mr. Jones into the house; and offered him whisky.

After having given the details of the case by Mr. Snow, John Barthwick calls it a fable and an unreal story. John Barthwick expects long sentence to Mr. Jones for the offence.

It is interesting to note that John Barthwick also thinks of withdrawing the case of stealing because of the involvement of Jack in the same kind of case. But Mr. Snow sarcastically asserts that the truth will soon come out and tells Barthwick that Mr. Jones will prosecuted for his assault on him. So there is question of withdrawal of the case. He also advises him to appoint a solicitor in order to defend himself.

Galsworthy has introduced another character named Roper, a solicitor in the second Act. He has been portrayed as a man of middle age with ruddy, thin moustache and dark and alert eyes. John Barthwick asks Mr. Roper not to mention the case stealing of crimson silk purse in the court in order to defend his son and maintain his reputation in society.

Mrs. Barthwick is completely nescient of the matter of stealing of a purse but when she comes to know about that she gets anxious and disturbed. She suggests Roper to mention the premarital relationship of Mrs. Jones and her husband in the court in order to divert the attention of the court and highlight loose character of the couple. She thinks that by doing so, the court will form its decision against the Jones and her son won’t get trapped in the case.

But Roper cunningly asserts that the magistrate might also have such kind of relationship before he got married; and it is, after all, the matter of private life. So it does not have any significance. Thus, Galsworthy has skillfully described the cunning nature and hypocrisy of the Barthwicks who conspire against the poor and distressed family on the basis of their power and position in society.

Trial Scene at the Police Court:

Galsworthy’s play “The Silver Box’ presents the corrupt judicial system of the period. His play can be deemed as a work of a social reformer in which he has expressed his sympathy for the poor and oppressed. The third Act of the play holds only one long scene which takes place at the Police Court, London. Both Mrs. Jane Jones and James Jones are interrogated and prosecuted by the solicitor for the offence of stealing the silver box. Galsworthy has artistically depicted how justice is bought and sold in the present time with the use of money and power.

When Mrs. Jones is accused of stealing the silver box, she plainly denies that she has not stolen the thing. She came to know about its missing from Mr. Barthwick. She also tells the magistrate that she saw the silver box at her house in one of the pockets of her husband’s coat. Mr. Jones is prosecuted for the staling and assault on Robert Snow by him. The magistrate states that Mrs. Jones and Mr. Jones cannot be charged with the same offence.

Mr. Jones tells the magistrate that he had no intention of entering the house of the Barthwicks at midnight but when he found Jack Barthwick trying to find the keyhole on the wrong side of the door he helped him enter the house. It was Jack Barthwick who was in a drunken state; he invited him into the house and offered him whisky and cigarettes. He also asserts that he has never been prosecuted before in his life; and no case has been filed against him in any court because he is not a criminal. He searched for the job for months but got no work.

Mrs. Jane Jones also defends her husband stating that she has never known Mr. James Jones to do such a thing before though they have gone through many hardships and suffering. When the matter of Jack Barthwick comes to the court, John Barthwick wishes to withdraw the case taking into consideration the circumstances and poverty of the Jones. There is elemenet of fear that the case of stealing a crimson silk purse and the lady might came to the surface and spoil his reputation. So John Barthwick expresses his view to Roper that he would like to withdraw the case.

In the end of the play, the magistrate announces one month’s imprisonment with hard labour to Mr. James Jones and Mrs. Jones is acquitted. It is interesting to note that the magistrate also considers the poor and destitute like Mr. and Mrs. Jones as ‘a nuissance to community’. He utters the same expression which was employed by John Barthwick for many times in the play.

The concluding part of the novel is thought-provoking and touching where Mr. Jones cries for Justice; and tells the Court that Jack Barthwick is also a criminal because he has also done the same offence of stealing the crimson purse of the lady but he has not been prosecuted because of his social status and power.


Thus, the playwright has raised the issue of injustice and inequality in society in the play “The Silver Box. As a realist Galsworthy has painted a true image of the society with his sternest and disciplined pen. He has described in his own words his aim and remarked, “The dramatist’s ambition in drama, as in his other works is to present truth as he sees it and, gripping with it his readers or his audience, to produce in them a sort of mental and moral ferment whereby vision may be enlarged, imagination livened and understanding promoted.” There is no doubt that John Galsworthy attained all this in his problem play “The Silver Box”. H.G. Wells called the play as ‘Really good’.

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