Feminist Analysis of Cloud Nine
In 1979, Caryl Churchill wrote a feminist play entitled Cloud Nine. It was the result of a workshop for the Joint Stock Theatre Group and was intended to be about sexual politics. Within the writing she included a myriad of different themes ranging from homosexuality and homophobia to female objectification and oppression. "Churchill clearly intended to raise questions of gender, sexual orientation, and race as ideological issues; she accomplished this largely by cross-dressing and role-doubling the actors, thereby alienating them from the characters they play." (Worthen, 807) The play takes part in two acts; in the first we see Clive, his family, friends, and servants in a Victorian British Colony in Africa; the second act takes place in 1979 London, but only twenty-five years have passed for the family. The choice to contrast the Victorian and Modern era becomes vitally important when analyzing this text from a materialist feminist view; materialist feminism relies heavily on history. Cloud Nine is a materialist feminist play; within it one can find examples that support all the tenets of materialist feminism as outlined in the Feminism handout (Bryant-Bertail, 1).
The system of patriarchy allies itself to economic power (Bryant-Bertail, 1). In the first act of the play, several references are made that allude to the economic power being held by the men. The play opens with the line "Come gather, sons of England, come gather in your pride" (Churchill, 810) and in Clive's opening speech he makes several fatherly references; "I am father to the natives here, and father to my family so dear" (810). In the next song the line "The forge of war shall weld the chains of brotherhood secure" (810) can be found. It is interesting to also note that intermixed with these lines are references to Queen Victoria's sovereignty. Several lines such as, "we serve the queen wherever we may roam" and "O'er countless numbers she, our Queen, Victoria reigns supreme" (810) can be found. The author intended these lines to be ironic and humorous. Even though the male characters are the ones saying them, they really don't have any respect for her as a person, just as a figure.
Women are hierarchized into classes (Bryant-Bertail, 2). In this story many of the women are in separate classes. In the first act there are five female characters, each of them is in a separate class. Betty is an elitist Victorian woman, and the female head of house. Her daughter, Victoria, is a child so she is virtually classless, while Maud is the mother-in-law and part of the upper class. Ellen is the governess and part of the servant/working class, and Mrs. Saunders, while part of the upper class, is also a widow, which sets her apart from the other women; she is independent and a threat. We are reminded in several places of the social classes within the story; an obvious example would be when Maud tells Betty of Ellen "You let that girl forget her place" (Churchill, 812). In the second act, there are four female characters; Betty and Victoria are carried over from act one while Lin and Cathy are new. The classes the women fall under have changed by this act. They are no longer in the Victorian era and are all part of the middle to lower upper class economically speaking. The hierarchy is still present, but it isn't nearly as apparent as it is in first act.
Class-consciousness is central to economic, social, and cultural institutions (Bryant-Bertail, 2). A good example of this tenet can be found in the character of Maud. Maud is primarily in Act One of the play, she is Betty's mother and serves and something of a guide to Betty; she often informs Betty how the proper Victorian woman would react given a situation. In the third scene of Act One, Maud has a lot of dialogue in which her beliefs can be seen. For example, when speaking to Betty and Mrs. Saunders about the possibility of an attack by the native...
Cited: Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1995
Churchill, Caryl In Worthen, W. B. ed. The Harcourt Brace Anthology of Drama. Fortworth:
Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 2000.
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