The character of Lily provides an interesting parallel to Maggie. As a spinster, she is independent and without the burdens of children and keeping a family home.
She has feminist views and is not afraid to speak her mind. This may seem commonplace for us, but would have shocked a 1947 audience. Lily looks out for Maggie by supporting her and bringing her gifts of food and medicine for Bertie.
She does not understand Maggie’s tolerance of John, and, as a result, often reveals her disapproval. However, despite her animosity, Lily loves her sister and wants to see her living a better life.
Lily’s views would have been controversial in post-war Scotland. Whether it is because of an early
disappointment to which Maggie alludes, she is very cynical about men and refuses to be a slave to them, which she feels is the consequence of marriage.
She tries to make Maggie and the audience aware of a wife’s predicament in an age when birth control was not widely practised. Lily blames John for giving Maggie
a the weans; thus perpetuating her slavish existence.
The limitations on women in the 1930s are apparent in the comments she makes about John:
Yin o they days your loving Johnnie’s gonna tak a look at whit he married and it’ll be ta-ta Maggie.
Despite its harsh tone and its bitterness, Lily’s warning rings true, especially when we consider John’s mildly flirtatious behaviour with Isa, which Maggie refers to later on.
Lily’s role therefore, is to get Maggie to literally and metaphorically look in the mirror in order to assert her own self. She is delighted when Maggie humiliates her husband at the end of the play as we can see from the stage directions:
Lily, arms akimbo, eyes a-gleam, laughs coarsely, and hugs herself.
Her physical stance with
arms akimbo is one of victory and her
gleaming eyes suggest the frisson of joy she experiences at watching such a man shamed by his wife.
Ironically, her elation here is not supportive of Maggie who is clearly upset and immediately regretful of her outburst.
Lily's feminist views are positive in that she refuses to accept that women are inferior to men, and this encourages Maggie to stand up for herself. But it seems that personal experience has soured her values.
While she wants to help Maggie, she is flawed by a negative attitude towards men. Instead of supporting her sister, she simply takes pleasure in seeing a man suffer.