Throughout this novel lowly boot-maker Willie Mossop grows and matures before the readers eyes. This is brought on by a newfound confidence brought out by Maggie. Maggie is the integral factor in Willies sudden change. The audience first perceives Willie as a man of great handiwork with no ambition that commands very little stage presence, on first meeting we can clearly see his naivety towards working life and we soon see him develop a metaphorical backbone. We know he has had no training at his handiwork as he clearly states ‘I had no other teacher’, and by ‘other teacher’ he means apart from Hobson.
Hobson poorly makes Hobson’s other boots in the shop, himself, Hobson knows that if Willie were to leave the shop, his business would begin to slowly wane as he knew he could never replace Willie. Maggie is the dominant character in the play; the focus of events and most of the scenes revolve around her. She does not really change much during the play we just discover hidden aspects of her character. Willie is more important because his character develops as a person and grows in stature.
The audience watches his journey from the beginning of the play to the end and see him transformed from the lowest character, in terms of social standing and position in life, to someone who is at the top. His journey of self-improvement is the main theme of the play. Through hard work, determination and ambition he makes a better life for himself and Maggie, and moves up in the world. Maggie is important because she moves the plot along by her actions: Her character does not undergo the transformation that Willie does.
Henry Hobson extremely underpays Willie for his craftsmanship and becomes very incensed when Mrs Hepworth praises Willie. The diminutive action of Mrs Hepworth in Act One brings about Willies confidence in his own abilities. From his reaction of “expecting a blow” we can tell he has never been praised and that Hobson took this all for himself. Willie has no business aspirations of his own and when asked, “When are you going to leave Hobson’s?” he shrugs off the notion and declares he will “not leave till I’m made”; this is a sharp contrast to his later outburst that he will leave and take Maggie with him. Maggie is in charge of the shop and she can see that Willie is a very hard worker who deserves more in life. “Do you know what keeps this business on its legs? Two things: one’s the good boots that sell themselves, the other is the bad boots other people make and I sell.”
This coupled with a new found fondness from Maggie adds to his ballooning sense of worth. Willie is led to believe that Maggie wants to marry him out of love, but from previous conversations we know Maggie does not have this intention and is purely seeking a business venture. Maggie knows this business relies on Willie, if he the chief boot-maker and Maggie were to leave; Hobson’s shop would gradually falter. Will is almost pushed around with Maggie, as he has no confidence. Will is afraid to try to do well and he has no career plans for the future, as he is too shy to try, he says: “Nay, I’d be feared to go in them fine places” We now know he romantically linked with two females, namely Maggie and Ada Figgins.
Willie vows to protect Ada, which is a total reverse of what Maggie is offering, financial protection. Maggie is determined to marry Willie and stops at nothing to convince him she is right for him, almost ordering him that he must leave Ada’s house immediately. The final part of Act One is Willie displaying his new enormous sense of well-being, which allows him to challenge his employer. After Maggie tells Hobson of her proposal, he promises to “beat the love out of” Willie every day until he refuses Maggie’s proposal. Willie retaliates and says if Hobson touches him with the belt he will leave the shop and run off with Maggie.
Although Hobson still hits him. His confidence seems to grow with his anger; he quickly kisses Maggie and walks out of the shop enraged. This is the end product of many years of hardship accumulated into one sharp outburst that will have serious repercussions later in the novel. Willie in the short space of an Act has transformed from “rabbit like boot-maker” to “no holds barred self-assured man”.