In John Ervine’s one- act play “Progress”, we get two opposite views on war. One is held by Henry and the other by his sister, Mrs. Meldon. The drama is based on the conflict of these two views on war. Henry holds that war is inevitable because human beings are too pugnacious. The horrors of war do not affect him in the least. To him the purpose of war is killing, and so it is no use being sentimental about death and destruction caused by war. He claims to have invented a far deadlier weapon than anything ever used in wars. And he is firm in his belief that his invention is the result of a great progress of human knowledge and skill. According to him, man’s progress consists in the invention of devastating weapons to shorten the duration of war.
Against this devilish view of progress held by Prof. Corrie is presented the truly human point of view of progress held by his sister, Mrs. Meldon. She considers war a great evil—a curse on mankind. War has snatched away her only son, her husband and left her all alone in this vast world. So she holds that war, an organized butchery of boys, should be totally abolished so that pe8ple all over the world may live in peace and the onward march of human progress remains unaffected. These two conflicting ideas raise the fundamental question in the form a single moment – the murder of Prof. Corrie by Mrs. Meldon.
Mrs. Meldon is an ordinary, commonplace woman. She is not a clever woman, nor is she learned. She can only feel things as they touch her and her near and dear ones. When she had her husband and son, she was a loving and dutiful wife and a loving and good mother. But the First World War has shattered her hopes and dreams and the joys of her life. It has taken away her son and husband and left her a bereaved mother, a helpless widow. She is now all alone in this vast world.
She is soft-hearted and feels for other women who have the same fate as hers. She sincerely wants that war should be abolished for ever from the face of the earth so that thousands of boys like her son may live without the fear of being destroyed. Her sad personal experience of war has thus broadened her view. Her hatred is directed against war in general—not against the Germans who killed her son. So, in her cry of protest against war we hear a cry of universal motherhood. She kills even her brother to destroy the deadly bomb and thereby ensure the safety of young lives. Her act of cruel murder does not lower her in our eyes. Rather she deserves our respect, because she murders a devil to save thousands of murders of innocent people in future.
Mrs. Meldon has been portrayed in the play “Progress” as a bereaved mother who doted on her only son, Eddie. When their son was born, the delight of her husband and herself knew no bounds. She nursed her only son with great love and care. Once when Eddie lay ill, she stayed up the whole night praying fervently for his recovery. To quote her own words, her “whole mind was then a prayer”. When Eddie left for France during the war, she became extremely fearful for his safety, but she did not express it before his friends lest he should feel ashamed. Soon she had to face a double bereavement, for Eddie was killed in war and her husband died of the shock. Her grief knew no bounds, but she did not complain. She was a bereaved mother who appreciated the sorrows of all other mothers who had the same fate as play—is war necessary for the progress of mankind? Does it ensure progress in the true sense of the term? The dramatist gives the answer to this question through the character of Mrs. Meldon, who represents the great majority of peace-loving people all over the world. At the end of the play she kills her own brother to uphold the cause of human progress and ensure the welfare of mankind. The monstrous idea of progress is totally defeated and the true idea of progress emerges victorious.
Like a true mother, Mrs. Meldon could feel for all other mothers, even mothers of the enemy country, experiencing similar loss. She sincerely wanted to abolish war so that life was not cut short in its prime and no mother suffered as she had. It was the mother in her that prompted her to kill even her own brother so that the young sons, like her Eddie, were not taken away from their mothers.