In understanding the meaning and function behind marriage in the plays and how this ultimately contributes to the tragic ending of women, it is first crucial to understand how their society views the issue of marriage. Perhaps in modern times, the significance and implication of marriage is lost or not as conservatively valued as they were in the societies that the women are set in, however it is imperative to appreciate the meaning and function of marriage in the plays as it existed in American history and not undermine this importance.
In the six plays, there are scenarios where there are voluntary marriages made because women loved the man they decided to commit to although they may later find out that there are many time in their marriage where they are physically and emotionally abused, and involuntary marriages either by pressure from third parties or arranged by older family members. These three various routes all lead to marriage, but their meanings, expectations and functions of marriage are all different and thus are three different avenues to understand.
Despite the contrasting elements, there are a few things in common which are imperative to reflect upon when reading the plays. This includes the concept of marriage being a rite of passage where a woman is married off to a man, giving the husband responsibility to look after the woman and thus control over them, and that marriage brings both joy and sorrow, in which problems and displeasure experienced by men also become problems and grieve of the women.
When all these factors interact, what occurs is that the women find themselves in subordinate positions in their marriage as it existed many centuries before them, where they have no real say in their future as husband and wife. This subordination greatly adds to the tragic sentiments felt by the women as they wish for improvements in their situations.
The theme of surviving independently is not strictly confined in the parameters of life and death, but rather focuses on the concept of whether the women in the plays have the skills, the will together with fate on their side to rise up to the challenge of surviving in a society that is not kind to them as a gender.
To comprehend the vastness of this theme, we need to question the source of their ‘survival skills’ and how they obtained these skills which leads to the probing of whether the women are born with this instinct or from their exposure to America, they are able to learn and adapt to the harsh surroundings and therefore attempt to survive. The ability to survive also raises interest of whether this is done independently by themselves or there is significant reliance on their husbands or other male characters in the play, and as a result brings into context the idea of surviving alone as a form of isolation.
What is also worthy of note is that even though some of the female characters are unable to detach from their accustomed dependence on men, they still experience isolation, often in the form of emotional abandonment. Nowadays we recognize that women being able to stand up for themselves and live independently as a strong compliment but it is important to appreciate that it is extremely difficult for the women in the plays to reach independence. It is crucial that we take into account the factor that the time and place the women are in do not encourage their strife for independence and thus do not ease the path to achieve this.
Objectification and lack or respect is something that still exists today and this entrenched concept prevails over time as women are considered to be the inferior gender. With society accepting as the norm for men to work and provide for their family and the woman’s role was merely to bear children and take care of the household, this separation of power and subordination results in men feeling they are always in control and they have the right to hold that power over women. Many women in return accept this and will not contest it, in most part because they are unable to fit the ‘system’ they are in.
This investigation on the six plays will also delve into the relationship between choosing not to fend off the objectification and lack of respect as a trade off to not need to be alone. It is also important to keep in mind while analyzing this theme in the plays that we do not assume that all men take advantage of the women and condemn as being ‘evil’, as we need to be aware that it is in part their nature to react in this way if they do because the society they are in constructs them to do so.
It is equally crucial that we acknowledge that society can change and therefore it just for women to continuously seek for change even when if the outcome looks bleak. Although much improvement has been instilled in societies around the world with fairer treatment of women at work or at home, readers need to understand that it is because women, like those portrayed in the plays, have endured the crux of the hardships in history already. The inability for women to successfully assimilate into their society will be explored, along with how it influences isolation.
To do so, it is essential in understanding how they approach assimilation in the time and place the play is set in; do the women have the right mindset to facilitate integration or are they still caught in the past and ponder about their homeland? When thinking about integration, we also need to be careful not to make the generalized assumption that it is a necessary element in their lives to bring happiness and that it is always achievable. Along with this is understanding how assimilation affect the three inevitable outcomes for women and whether the process of assimilation conflict with the women’s desires to be happy.
Chapter 2: Role of Women in America The role of women is an intriguing topic to explore as the female character often has a significant function in drama, even when the play is written with a male dominated cast. To understand the representation of women as constructed by their respective societies in the various American plays, the study will focus on three aspects; the purpose and significance of marriage, the ability to survive independently, and the lack of respect and objectification of women.
The Purpose and Significance of Marriage The theme of marriage, or in some of the texts, the desire to be in a good marriage, is a focal point in all six plays; It appears to be the cause of happiness in some while the root of the family’s misery and entrapment in others. While considering this theme and understanding how it interacts with the concept of the role of women, we must also take into account whether the marriages were voluntary or arranged.
In the view of these scenes, we can further understand where the position of women is in marriages and how their role in the marriage affects the family unity and the opportunity to sustain bliss. Marriage is considered a rite of passage for women in Machinal. Helen Jones is persuaded by the actions of other girls that marriage is the only key to success and happiness for a woman. When she is first propositioned, she becomes frantic and automatically trails off in her scattered and insecure thoughts about what is expected of her as a young woman.
“Married, all girls, most girls, married – babies, a baby! ” (Treadwell, 186). While she is terrified by this though, she slowly reconciles her insecurities and forces herself to believe that this needs to a reality for her. Wanting to confirm her daunting feelings of marriage, Helen attempts to seek the advice from her mother. “I got to get married, Ma. All women get married, don’t they? (Treadwell, 190). However her mother is too concerned with the prospect of her daughter’s rich finance supporting her to notice her daughter’s reluctance and vulnerability.
Unlike what she originally expected, Helen soon realizes that she can never genuinely feel happy in her marriage as she does not love her husband. On the surface, she fulfills the obligations of a married woman by giving birth to a girl and plays the role of a wife for six years without feeling affection towards her husband or her child. In a quest for true love, Helen finds herself in an affair, thinking she could escape the sorrow from her marriage. Her prevailing desire to escape from her marriage leads her to murder her husband.
“I put him out of the way – yes. To be free” (Treadwell, 248). The actions of this desperate woman to break the constructed role for all women in her society however, only results in her death as she is caught and tried for murder. In some cases, marriage is portrayed as an escape route, spurned by a desire to climb out of the hole of desperation and step into a future with hope and little remembrance of the past. In Bitter Cane, Li-Tai wishes for a better life than one of pleasing men but she knows no other way.
Her lover, Lau is a sugar cane laborer who is bound by contract to work for years to pay off his debt and so when Lau proposes to her and indulges her with thoughts of leaving Hawaii, she foresees that it would not succeed. “He wanted to marry me. What kind of a future would we have had? A plantation runaway and a pei-pa girl? He was obsessed with escaping” (Lim, 192). While Lau thinks that once they are married, they can start a fresh life together, she acknowledges that marriage is simply a fai??
ade for happiness and that their characters have always lead a harsh life and were not destined to find contentment. Li-Tai also suggests that her bleak life is connected with the fact that she is female as she tries to explain to him, “I’m a woman, Lau. There’s nothing out there but desolation. ” (Lim, 200). Lau commits suicide following Li-Tai’s rejection and she meets Wing, who is Lau’s son and later becomes her lover. However, Li-Tai’s persistent despair wavers when Wing proposes and she grasps the opportunity to leave her past behind and attempt to find happiness with him.
What is particularly interesting here is that Wing intends to leave the sugar plantations in Hawaii to “go to Honolulu” (Lim, 194), another Hawaiian island. This suggests that their escape through marriage is not principally a physical escape, but more of an emotional escape. Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, also attempts to use marriage as a way to escape from her flirtatious past and take the opportunity to secure a stable appreciation from a man before she ages too much and therefore no longer entices the opposite gender.
The reader understands that Blanche is quite insecure about her deteriorating looks and her concerns about losing the power of seduction and often seeks for compliments to help convince herself that she has not completely lost her talent yet. When she first sees her sister Stella, she initiates the expected compliment by joking that she still has that “awful vanity about [her] looks even now that [her] looks are slipping! ” (Williams, 123) with Stella dutifully responding, “They hadn’t slipped one particle” (Williams, 123).
However Blanche’s plan for marriage fails and her last chance of earning happiness and security with someone who appreciates her is lost. “She thought Mitch was going to – going to marry her” (Williams, 191). Her fianci?? e Mitch, is in a similar position as Blanche, also looking for someone to spend the rest of his life with, a stable long term partner as he admitted to his drinking buddies that “you all are married, but I’ll be alone” (Williams, 144).
Despite his desperate need to be with somebody, Mitch does not want Blanche when her provocative life is revealed as she is no longer ‘marriage material’. This suggests to the reader that marriage from Mitch’s perception and perhaps from the perspective of society as well, is that the sanctity of marriage and the purity of the woman are traditionally crucial. Contrastingly, in Flyin’ West, Minnie is pressured by her sisters to escape her abusive marriage as a move into the direction of a better future.
Minnie is reluctant to do so despite knowing her sisters’ words of wisdom were only articulated out of love and protection. In the play, Minnie’s character displays the dilemma that many women are caught in their marriages. On the one hand, they love their husband and will be willing to sacrifice themselves to place their husbands’ outrageous requests and wishes first while their concerned family members struggle to convince the abused woman to think rationally for themselves and not their undeserving so-called husbands.
This problem is greatly highlighted by Sophie when she bluntly recalls the truth that no one else wants to mention. “You know as well as I do there are no laws that protect a woman from her husband. Josh beat Belle for years and we all knew it. And because the sheriff didn’t do anything, none of us did anything either. ” (Cleage, 717). Flyin’ West also offers the reader an interpretation to the importance of marriage. Their grandmother explains that enduring a harsh life does not “make sense without the children” (Cleage, 698).
Respecting her grandmother’s words, Minnie places her child’s best interest first over Frank’s as she accepts that she needs to escape from her abusive marriage regardless of how much she still loves him. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella withstands the abuse her husband exerts on her as a way to maintain happiness in her life. Stella comprehends the complexities of marriage and the need of personal sacrifice to build a life with her husband and provide a family for their unborn child. “I’m not in anything I want to get out of” (Williams, 158).
She accepts that there are both positive and negative aspects in her marriage and she concludes that the joy which her marriage brings to her life overrides the pain and heartbreak that she occasionally experiences. Most importantly, Stella displays her intimate affections for her husband, indicating that she has invested emotionally in this relationship to the point that it is impossible for her to break away from such a commitment. “I can hardly stand it when he is away for a night… when he’s away for a week I nearly go wild!
And when he comes back I cry on his lap like a baby” (Williams, 125). However this concept of true love and marriage is lost on Blanche when Stella repeatedly tries to defend her love for Stanley, to the ironic extent that Blanche measures the validity of this concept by comparing it with her desire for short term pleasure with strange men and calls it a “fix is worse than mine” (Williams, 158). This idea of marriage invoking a symbol of happiness to help overcome any hardship is also represented in And The Soul Shall Dance through Murata and Hana’s marriage.
Murata endures much of the same obstacles Oka faces when farming and trying to reap crops to support his family, but Oka envies Murata because he does not have his beloved wife with him. Oka believes that any hardship is tolerable so long as his Shizue could support and comfort him because they would “be poor but happy… like Murata and his wife and the kid” (Yamauchi, 151). However as a reader, I must examine whether the reason behind Murata and Hana’s loving marriage and their happiness hinges on the fact that Hana plays the expected, stereotypical role of a woman as a devoted mother and wife.
In contrast, Emiko refuses to play the role of a wife as her heart belongs to another man and she does not want to be married to Oka in the United States. Her refusal antagonizes Oka as seen in his frustrated scene with her where he brutally scolds her and spats “all I wanted was a little comfort and you… no, you didn’t” (Yamauchi, 151). This raises the question of whether subordination and living up to expectations is paramount to meeting the purpose of a successful marriage from the perspective of women and their husbands.
This concern also arises in Fences when the reader attempts to understand Rose’s decision for staying in the marriage with her cheating husband, Troy. Throughout the play, the character of Rose revolves around Troy and their son Cory to the extent that she exists in the play simply to wait on the two most important men in her life. She does so without questioning the structure behind their family and appears to be content serving them from managing the housework to mediating between characters to maintain tranquility. “You ready for breakfast? I can fix it soon as I finish hanging up these clothes.
” (Wilson, 21). While Troy has a full time job with the garbage disposal department and their teenage son holding a part time job at the local supermarket, Rose is the only character in the household who does not have an occupation, something which is not uncommon for women in this time of society. What is interesting however, is that other characters in the play as well as readers take for granted that her role is merely a housewife, but when Rose confronts Troy’s infidelity, she defines this as her employment and not simply a contribution to the family. “That was my job, not somebody else’s” (Wilson, 69).
This suggests that Rose understands and accepts that she caters for her family and stands by her husband even if it means sacrificing her own dreams, not purely because she loves him, but because it is her responsibility to do so. The reader also has the opportunity to value the importance of committing to a marriage from the perspective of women. Rose admits in the opening scene that she once told Troy “if he wasn’t the marrying kind, then move out of the way so the marrying kind could find me” (Wilson, 6), implying that it was crucial for her to find the right man to settle down with.
The opening sequence also reveals to the audience that Rose understand the importance of devoting her married life as a loving wife and mother as she “recognizes the possibilities of her life without him” (Wilson, 5). As a result, the ultimate incentive which drives Rose to fulfill the expectations of a responsible, dutiful yet subordinate wife may be generated from a desire to feel safe and secure. And The Soul Shall Dance also depicts the disastrous consequences of an arranged and unloving marriage.
At the heart of all their problems, lies the bitter circumstance of Oka and Emiko not being in love but forced into a marriage by Emiko’s parents. “Your father palmed you off on me – like a dog or cat – an animal… couldn’t do nothing with you. ” (Yamauchi, 150). As a result, there is never peace in Oka’s household, and over time the bitter truth and hateful feelings for each other are revealed as the two refuse to reconcile or make an effort to cope with each other. Oka can only imagine what life could have been like and he endures each day by believing that “there must be a better way to live…
there must be another way” (Yamauchi, 152). The fact that it is not only the female character, Emiko, who feels trapped in the marriage but also the male counterpart, Oka, as shown from his sour words, “I didn’t marry her. They married her to me” (Yamauchi, 138), is quite a unique aspect in this play. The Ability to Survive Independently Males are often depicted as the breadwinner in literature, especially when the characters are situated in a patriarchal society. In And The Soul Shall Dance, it is understood that Oka provides for Emiko even though they do not love each other and he does so because legally, they are husband and wife.
As the harsh farming life does not guarantee a stable income, Oka finds it hard to support his life and send money back to Japan to support his first wife and daughter, Kiyoko. However, neither Oka nor Murata expected the difficulty they face in America as it was everyone’s dream and belief that they could “make money, go home and live like a king” (Yamauchi, 138). As the women often simply take on the role of a mother and a wife, the females often do not work and solely depend on their husbands as Emiko does. She is financially reliant on Oka even though she wishes she did not have to owe him anything.
However she has no choice in this matter as she would not be able to survive without his money. “I don’t have the money. Give me money to… I’d die out there” (Yamauchi, 151). Emiko’s desperation displays the level of frustrated dependency the woman has on the man, a frustration that Oka is burdened with and a frustration that is imposed on Emiko. In some scenarios, the male do not solely hold the title as the financial controller. While they may be the breadwinner of the house and that is the only source of the income, they give their paycheck to their wives. This leaves the control of finances in the hands of the women.
In Fences, Rose says to Troy on payday, “You can hand yours over here too, Troy” (Wilson, 47), referring to the monthly income earned to pay for everything their family lives off. Rose also shows that she is in charge of deciding how the expenditure is allocated as she justifies that she uses the money responsibly by purchasing her groceries from the cheapest store. The reader can also interpret this habit of giving the wife the salary as a common practice as Troy’s best friend Bono, shares with him that he has a similar experience with his wife on pay day. “Yeah, Lucille do me the same way” (Wilson, 47).