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Asia Pacific Journal of Research ISSN (Print) : 2320-5504

ISSN (Online) : 2347-4793

Social Injustice in Galsworthys The Silver Box

*Arun Daves A M.A., M.A., M.Phil.
Ph.D. Scholar, Department of English, Annamalai University
**Dr. A. Selvaraj M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.
Research Supervisor, Associate Professor, Department of English, Annamalai University


It is intended to focus on the partial treatment of the rich and poor in the play The Silver Box by John Galsworthy. The
Silver Box contains a social satire on unjust social partiality. The play is an appeal for compassion and sympathy for the poor
who invariably suffer. It indicts the society for its contrasting treatment of two men, Jack and Jones, the one belonging to the
affluent section and the other to the vertically opposite.. Law which is equal for all is ruthless and unjust towards the weak and
helpless. The purpose of this paper is to portray both the characters with all their doings. However both the characters are found
equally guilty in the play, then arise the role of wealth and social status in the court which makes Jack a respectable gentleman
and the miserably poor Jones guilty. This paper will highlight the mastery of Galsworthy in portraying the reality of the 20 th
century English society and the Legal system and making the audience to be the real judges between Jack and Jones.
Keywords: Galsworthy, The Silver Box, Jack Barthwick, Jones, Social Injustice

Edwardian playwright and novelist, John Galsworthy was a comprehensive societal optimist and a realistic playwright.
He wrote plays in first hand to instruct and then to delight. He says, My dramatic invasion and the form of it, was dictated by
revolt at the artificial nature of English play of the period, and by a resolute intention to present real life on the stage. His writing
reveals his temperamental preoccupation to bring about a social reform. Galsworthy selects incidents from the society and fuses
his strong and furious imaginative craftsmanship on them and transforms them into stronger forces than the characters in his plays.
Galsworthy made his debut on the English Theatres with his first play The Silver Box in 1906, which marked his clear
dramatic development in the artistic world of drama. The Silver Box as a play covers all the eleven aspects of a social tragedy and
focuses on faith, ideas and forces of modern life. The play emphasizes on the class power that diverts justice exposing similar
felony committed by wealthy and depressed ensuing in different outcome, when money makes law, stoop in favour of the rich. It
displays that, the machinery of Law moves ruthlessly and penalises the destitute and helpless.
In the play, The Silver Box, the society and the judicial system can be considered as the culprit and the villain. Thus the
play makes our sympathy flow on towards the miserable character of Jones who becomes helpless before the prejudiced legal
system that profits the mighty and rich politician. Here, we can see the preoccupation of the social themes and problems in
English life within Galsworthy. The main theme of the play is the process of law, the way it affects the poor and the rich. There
are two piercingly conflicting factions contrasted by the playwright, the affluent Barthwick and his dissolute and wayward son
Jack who takes all care that their social image and standing is not disturbed and damaged. They do everything to shield it by any
means and go to the extent of anything that money can do to achieve. On the other side, is the wretched and destitute Jones whose
hardship is the product of cruel social and legal system.
Galsworthy, the socialist writer begins the play with a rude comment of Jack-We are all equal before the law thasrot
,thas silly ( Act I Scene I pg.104). He gives the whole idea of the play from Jacks point of view.. With that quote he portrays
the whole legal system of England of his time. The play poses that the legal system has become the puppet in the hands of the rich
and the powerful and it has become the soar fruit for the poor and needy. The partiality of the Magistrate or the legal system on
both Jack and Jones is crafted well by Galsworthy. Jack the son of a wealthy and powerful father. He is an indulged and purse-
proud young man, addicted to drinks and dissipation. He never came of any side-effects of his doings. Like the sons of wealthy
parents he wangles with his father for money and spoiled by an indulgent mother. He is consecrated with an easy-going and
pleasure loving disposition.
Mr.&Mrs. Barthwick show indulgence and preference towards Jack. Mr.Brathwick rebukes and reproaches him and even
calls him a nuisance to the society BARTHWICK. ..You don't seem to have any principles. You--you're one of those who are a
nuisance to society; you--you're dangerous! What your mother would say I don't know. Your conduct, as far as I can see, is Vol: I. Issue XLVII, January 2017

Asia Pacific Journal of Research ISSN (Print) : 2320-5504
ISSN (Online) : 2347-4793
absolutely unjustifiable. It's--it's criminal. Why, a poor man who behaved as you've done --d' you think he'd have any mercy
shown him? What you want is a good lesson. You and your sort are--[he speaks with feeling]--a nuisance to the community. Don't
ask me to help you next time. You're not fit to be helped. (Act I Scene III pg.124). But, in times, he overlooks Jacks faults lightly
and rescues him whenever he lands himself in trouble. Mr.Barthwick is forced to help Jack to protect his own reputation and his
political career. When Jack was in the risk of prosecution for cheating the bank, Mr.Barthwick settles it down with a draft for
forty pound. When a lady in a drunken fit of resentment threatened to launch a prosecution against him, Mr.Brathwick again
settles it in a silent manner by giving eight pounds for seven pounds and twelve shilling UNKNOWN. [Tearing at her
handkerchief.] Oh! do give it me! [She puts her hands together in appeal; then, with sudden fierceness.] If you don't I'll summons
you. It's stealing, that's what it is! BARTHWICK.[Uneasily.] One moment, please. As a matter of---er --principle, I shall settle this
claim. [He produces money.] Here is eight pounds; the extra will cover the value of the purse and your cab fares. I need make no
comment--no thanks are necessary (Act I Scene III pg.124) Mrs.Brathwick on the other hand shows great indulgence towards
Jack and be eyes closed to his fault and failing. She was too narrow and selfish towards the faults of Jack and he becomes wild
and ruthless because of his wealthy indulgent parents.
On contrary, Jones, a thirty year old jobless poor chap is juxtaposed to Jack. He is neither a downright villain nor a
blameless hero. He is posed as a mixture of good and evil, vices and virtues. Equally to Jack, he has plenty of faults and failing
but his nature is rightly observed by Mrs. Jones, She says, I think theres a great deal of good in him, Though he does treat me
very hard sometimes.(Act I Scene III pg.132). Jones is closely compared and contrasted with Jack Barthwick by critics.
Prof.R.H.Coats says, In the first place, We notice that the cases of Jack and Jones are almost but not quite parallel, and that
where the parallel fails. The difference is in favour of Jones.
Like Jack, Jones drinks recklessly and is fond of dissipation. Whenever he drinks he misbehaves and mistreats his wife.
He even descends violently towards his wife even threatens to cut her throat and drives her out at night. Jones had immoral
relationship with her and was therefore dismissed from his job. Under the influence of alcohol, he takes the silver box and the
crimson purse to score off Jack, Jones is not a deliberate thief. He refuses any intention to steal to his wife and before the
magistrate in the court- JONES. I never stole the box. I took it.(Act III Scene I pg.180). Hedoesnt feel the sense of guilt that he
took the silver box instead says that he took it under the influence of alcohol .Joness attitude is sullen and indignant. He fails to
extend politeness and respect to the Magistrate.
Jones has a rightful distress against his living society which has anathematized him to poverty and impecuniosities. He
has lost his hope in honest means of livelihood. He is willing to work hard but finds no place to work. He expresses his grievance
to his wife in a conversation - JONES. [Turning towards her on his elbow.] Let 'em come and find my surprise packet. I've had
enough o' this tryin' for work. Why should I go round and round after a job like a bloomin' squirrel in a cage. "Give us a job, sir"-
-"Take a man on"--"Got a wife and three children." Sick of it I am! I 'd sooner lie here and rot. (Act II - Scene I pg.
135) He is an innocent victim of gross injustice, social apathy and indifference. He is just neglected by the society and he has not
given a single opportunity to become an honest and responsible citizen. It will be a serious error to consider him a wicked since he
is not a downright villain. On account of his poverty and impecuniosities, he feels it a crime to have children. He feels much hurt
when he finds his children hungry.
Jones bitterly complains that the principle of equality before law is a legal fiction. He asserts that the legal system has
become a hideous force. As there is one law for the rich and another for the poor and also he adds that many and power can easily
overtake justice. He claims for an equality in law for him and Jack and expected that Jack would be also taken into task for
misconduct. But the magistrate is least bothered about his words and was clear in his point to make Jack out of the case and he
observes that Jones is a nuisance to the society. MAGISTRATE. Your conduct here has been most improper. You give the excuse
that you were drunk when you stole the box. I tell you that is no excuse. If you choose to get drunk and break the law afterwards
you must take the consequences. And let me tell you that men like you, who get drunk and give way to your spite or whatever it is
that's in you, are--are--a nuisance to the community!(Act III Scene I pg.188).Jones is disappointed since the rich Jack is left free
and he is condemned with a month of rigorous labour and his hysterical outburst ends up in the play. -Call this justice? What
about 'im? 'E got drunk! 'E took the purse--'e took the purse but [in a muffled shout] it's 'is money got 'im off--JUSTICE!(Act III
Scene I pg.188).Joness words are ironical and surcharged with bitter passion.
For the most part, Jack does not make a good impression. Though he is guilty of his serious misconduct, he goes scot free
from the court. He has an easy-going and pleasure loving disposition. His demeanour reflects his arrogance and complacency. He
is a rotten. On the other hand, Jones deserves sympathy and compassion. The present social order is largely responsible for his
degradation and misconduct. He is an innocent victim of a gross injustice. Galsworthy does not represent Jones as a glorious hero
or as a downright villain. He gives us a balanced view of faults and failing as well as his strength and virtues. Galsworthy portrays
the legal system of justice which allows the guilty Jack to go scot free and the helpless Jones to a month of hard labour leaving his
wife and children to suffer. Thus the play The Silver Box dramatizes the controversial social question of the unequal treatment of
the rich and the poor.
Work Cited
Croman, Natalie. John Galsworthy: A Study in Continuity and Contrast. Cambridge: Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1933.
Dr. B.B. Jain, John Galsworthy The Silver Box, LAN educational publishers, Agra
H.V. Marrot. The Life & Letters of John Galsworthy. 1935 - London
Padmaja Ashok, The Social history of England, Orient BlackSwan, Chennai
Thomas Carlton Upham The Dramatic Works Of John Galsworthy,University Of Illinois 1918
V. Dupont, John Galsworthy: The Dramatist Artist, Classic Reprint Series, Forgotten books
Ward, A C. Longman Companion to Twentieth Century Literature. London: Longman, 1970 Vol: I. Issue XLVII, January 2017