Gender and Theatrical Naturalism

Topics: Gender, Maxim Gorky, Stereotype Pages: 6 (2278 words) Published: May 8, 2013
‘The challenge to gender stereotypes, as well as provocative statements on women’s rights, and attacks on sexual inequality are a fundamental basis of theatrical Naturalism.’ Critically analyse your chosen text with specific reference to this statement.

Naturalism and Realism are frequently interpreted in the broadest sense as synonyms, referring to an objective portrayal of daily life that appears true to the spectator or readers actual experience. (Innes,C. 2000,p2)) More attentively the terms ‘Naturalism’ and ‘Realism’ refer to a fixed theatrical movement. In 1902, the founder of the social-realism, Maxim Gorky wrote his first published play 'The Lower Depths’ in which was rewarded with colossal success by the Moscow Art Theatre. The public didn’t only get drawn to the play as a political play of misfortune and freedom but it was a way of opening the eyes of the theatre and society to show that it was capable of presenting illustration of a social conscience. This essay will demonstrate the fundamental basis of theatrical naturalism by critically analysing The Lower depths, By Maxim Gorkii, with specific reference to the challenge to gender stereotypes, provocative statements on women’s rights and attacks on sexual inequality. The lower depth is set in Russia in nineteenth century, where women were controlled by their father or husbands on every aspect of their own lives. They were not able to vote, attend high schools or universities and were not able to hold their own passports. Higher education was unavailable right up until the 1870’s. The main career goal for a Russian woman was to marry to a wealthy man and become a housewife. The 1836 code of Russian Law stated, “The women must obey her husband, reside with him in love, respect and unlimited obedience, and offer him every pleasantness and affection as the ruler of the household.” ( As you can see from this ruling Russian women were truly oppressed and any women who disobeyed these rules were considered ‘unnatural’ and were treated harshly either by violence or social out casting. In 1861 Russian academics became more attentive to the dilemma of women or what was known as the ‘women question.’ It was a search for women’s rights and freedom where male writers took it upon them to investigate. They did not seek revolution but equality between men and women. A fundamental base of naturalistic plays such as The Lower Depths is the challenge to gender stereotypes. In the lower depths Gorki has divided the women into two categories, the exploiters and the exploited. An obvious exploiter would be Vasilissa and the way she exploits men and her sister. She finds a way of challenging the gender stereotype by rexamminig the conventional gender roles. She is comfortably exploring the qualities of both. Females around the 19th century in Russia were stereotypically housewives and were to obey their husbands. Nevertheless, Vassilisa breaks through the typical stereotypes of gender and begins to create a new aspect of theatrical naturalism. Bubnov refers to Vassilisa “she’s a vicious one that one.” (Gorkii,M. (2009)p17). It is evident that Vassilisa is challenging the gender stereotype of a typical housewife and creating a new theatrical naturalism. Luka, is talking to Pepel about Vassilisa and clams “She’s worse than a harpy.” (Gorkii,M(2009) p31) For a woman in Russia in the 19th century to be identified as worse than a loathsome, voracious monster with the head and trunk of a woman was not normal in society at that time. Pepel continues to refer to her as a monster “you’re a savage and you’re proud of it.” (Gorkii,M (2009)p30) The word savage is normally referred to someone who is violent and has very little or no remorse about their actions. Stereotypically, a ‘savage’ is normally looked upon as a ‘villain’’ which is normally type casted as a male in theatre and in social reality. However in The Lower Depths...
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