An Analysis of the One-act Play: Defeat

Defeat by John Galsworthy


A Young Army Officer British National
A Young Girl German National

 Perspectives are Conditioned by Situations: An Analysis of the One-act Play Defeat


              Suffering related to war is the major theme in Defeat by John Galsworthy.  War has always been a heroic act, justifying boasting of bravery and annihilating the enemy.  Seldom the sufferings faced by women, children, and the aged are taken into considerations.  John Galsworthy through the voice of the ‘Girl’ in the play brings out the untold sufferings people undergo when war breaks out.  The play has just two characters – a young officer, and a girl.  The time is evening and the place is the home of the girl.

            It could be understood from the first line of the dialogue that the officer and the girl know each other for some time, nevertheless the girl tries to hide her identity.  The officer is an Englishman, and the girl is German.  In order to avoid her identity being revealed, she says to the young officer that she is Russian.  The officer is wounded and the girl helps him and also likes him for being gentle towards her. 

            When the play begins the officer tries to understand the reason for her cry but she gives an unconvincing answer.  She says, “Oh! nothing.  The beautiful evening that’s all.”  The officer could probably very well understand that the beautiful evening has nothing to do with crying, but then he just encourages her to cheer up.  She does not like the war between the Germans and the English and believes strongly that it is going to be endless.  The young officer glorifies war but the girl denounces such glorification.

            Perspectives differ from person to person and it is difficult to change one’s view.  Expecting somebody to synchronize with one’s views would result only in total disappointment.  Cordial relationship with people with antithetical perspectives won’t be possible unless they don’t thrust their views on each other.  The one act play ‘Defeat’ by John Galsworthy portrays two characters having antithetical views about war.

            Good and bad are judged in comparison with one another. She being a German hides her identity from all people including the young officer as she is surrounded by the English everywhere. Nevertheless at one point, she comes to know about the character of the young officer. According to her, “he sees good in others”.  In her conversation with him often she says that he is a nice boy. The confidence about the understanding of his nature even make her address him as… ‘baby’.  This makes her confide her identity and her penniless and pathetic situation to him. 

            Being intimate and considerate does not guarantee that their views would be the same.  The officer is sympathetic towards her and she likes him to a great extent.  Nevertheless both of them have conflicting views about war. He is highly romantic about war where as the girl feels, war brings misery to the entire humanity.  She says, “The horrible war –all the misery is because of the war. When will it end?”  The officer feels waging war is heroic and he admires the way soldiers fight. He says, “There’s never been anything like it – just one long but of jolly fine self-sacrifice; it is perfectly amazing.”  He glorifies the soldiers charging at their enemies from trenches and in plains. 

            Generally, war can never be a solution to end strife, but universally it has been considered as the right solution.  When everybody begins to think that peace can be achieved through war, it makes no sense.  War can lead only to a temporary solution.  This realization has not penetrated everybody’s mind except a few wise souls.  One such wise soul is the young girl in this play.  She has the realization that war leads only to misery and not to any amicable situation.  When the young officer says, “We must fight till we win”, she retorts, “…My people think that too.  All the peoples think that if they win the world will be better.  But it will not.  You know; it will be much worse, anyway.”

            War has even made her lose faith on religion and God. Disappointment would be high when expectations either from God or Man is high. It could be understood that the girl has had a laudable faith in God.  Her unassailable faith in God could be seen in her past actions.  She says “Once I was teaching little English children their prayers—isn’t that funnee?  I was reading to them about Christ and love.  I believed all those things.”  Her faith is an outcome of her belief that God is the ultimate solution for all her maladies.  Nevertheless, the intensity of war when it left millions dead, and the sufferings of the people living in the war-torn regions untold, her faith in God collapsed.  She is forced to the extent of questioning and denying the existence of God.  She says, “I believe no more in anything.  What is there to believe in?  Is there a God? No!” On the other hand the officer has neither faith nor disappointment except the thought of vanquishing enemies.

            The girl has been trying to convince the officer that war is of no use but her attempt to convince him goes in vain. The intensity of the argument grows in crescendo and ends up in vexation.  The moment, she understands him as a ‘ni-ice boy’ , and ‘veree good’ the girl tries to drive sense into his mind about the uselessness of war.  Nevertheless, her words could not win the closed mind of the young soldier.  Probably, the expectations of the girl about convincing the soldier were high as he receives her words without much opposition.  Hence, her disappointment is intense when he begins to celebrate the victory of the English over the Germans by ‘waving his cap and cheering like a madman’, she feels defeated and puts an end to everything with him by returning his money, “Take them – I will not haf your English money – take them.

            Defeat clearly brings out the idea that no two people think alike.  Appreciating the views of others is the only way to have smooth relationship with friends and family members. Nevertheless, as the German girl tries all her best to convince the officer to understand the uselessness of war, it is not a harm to convince the other.  The officer is an individual who is bound to obey higher orders and to do his duty of a soldier. Moreover, it is his work ethics to defend his country. Though it is a universal idea that war is destructive in nature, the girl’s anger against the officer is unjustifiable.  The play clearly states, through the two characters of this play, that perspectives are conditioned by one’s situations.


  1. Prevalence: Noun
    Meaning – widespread
    Example – There is a prevalence of plush.
  2. Discreet: Adjective
    Meaning – modest
    Example – The Girl wears a discreet dark dress, hat, and veil, and stained yellow gloves.
  3. Evidently: Adjective
    Meaning – obviously, clearly
    Example – The GIRL, who is evidently at home, moves towards the gas jet to turn it up.
  4. Crinkly – Adjective
    Meaning – ripple
    Example – Taking of hat and veil ; her hair is yellowish and crinkly,
  5. Ripping – Adjective
    Meaning – excellent
    Example – The way they went in—never thinking of themselves—it was simply ripping.
  6. FrownsVerb
    Meaning – to look with anger
    Example – The Young Officer doesn’t like this, and frowns. The GIRL looks little scared.
  7. Clingingly – Adverb
    Meaning – to bend one’s body due to fear
    Example – [Clingingly] But I li-ke you for it.
  8. Shilling – Noun
    Meaning – former money of the United Kingdom
    Example – Well, I haf just one shilling now!
  9. Brutes – Noun
    Meaning – humans having animal qualities
    Example – Yes, I suppose you’re bound to think us all brutes
  10. Dreadfully – Adverb
    Meaning – Fearfully
    Example – I am dreadfully nervous now.
  11. Smothered – Adjective
    Meaning – suffocating
    Example – [In a smothered voice]
  12. Cynic – Noun
    Meaning – one who distrusts the motives of others
    Example – You are a dreadful little cynic!
  13. Humbug – Noun
    Meaning – a pretender
    Example – I don’t want to be good any more – I am not a humbug: I have learned to be bad.
  14. Despise – Verb
    Meaning – hatred to the extend of disgust
    Example – I don’t hate even the English – I despise
  15. Plaintively – Adverb
    Meaning – sadly
    Example – [Plaintively] Are you really going? Don’t you like me enough?
  16. Obstinate – Adjective
    Meaning – unyielding attitude
    Example – Ni-ice boy, you are veree obstinate.
  17. Stifled – Adjective
    Meaning – suppressed, discouraged
    Example – At that intense soft bitterness in her voice, he gets up, feeling stifled.
  18. Dabbling – Verb
    Meaning – unintentionally meddling with
    Example – Mechanically, she sweeps together the scattered fragments of notes, assembling them with the dust into a little pile, as of fallen leaves, and dabbling in it with her fingers.


About diarysketches (25 Articles)
I Teach English Language and Literature in a college.

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