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Power Struggle Of Women Dolls House Cloud9 English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5233 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Written in 1879 and 1978 respectively, A Doll’s House and Cloud 9 are plays based on modern realistic themes. Both were written at the peak of the Victorian Era and where patriarchy was most prominent. This essay will discuss the playwrights’ portrayal of the power struggle of women in terms of their conformity to the role as” The Victorian Angel of the House”, their breaking free from a sense of entrapment, their treatment as objects. It will also examine the consequences of such a power struggle in both plays. I feel that it is worthy of investigation because it opens up one’s mind to the infinite opportunities that the semantics of power versus powerlessness could impose on one’s idea on the culture of the Victorian era with a different genre besides the one that the plays are aligned to.

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In A Doll’s House and Cloud 9, the protagonists Nora and Betty respectively are initially portrayed as conformists who adhere to their patriarchal societies’ expectations on marriage thus signifying women’s powerlessness in marriage against social norms and expectations. They were deemed as ”the Victorian Angel in the House”, which is defined for a woman to be” devoted and submissive to her husband.” [1] Typical of marriage of the Victorian era, male dominance, responsibility, power and control makes Torvold the breadwinner of the family. This leaves Nora to her domestic duties of the home which includes,” she and the CHILDREN play, laughing and shouting and running in and out of the room on the right.” [2] and her looking after the well being of the children,” Yes, Bob I’ll dance with you too. Did you? Snowballs? I wish I’d been there. Its all right, Anne-Marie, I’ll take their coats off. No, no I enjoy it.” [3] , and her husband. The domestic environment encapsulates her, Nora, as she plays hostess to Mrs. Linde and Rank. By entertaining guests and complying to her roles, it establishes an enslavement of sorts to the obligatory position of women within the home.

Similarly, in Cloud 9, Betty and Clive are bounded together by societal’s perception of a marriage that is fitting of a couple. Clive imposes his ideas onto her and that’s all she needs. At the beginning of the play, Betty says that” I live for Clive. The whole aim of my life. Is to be what he looks for in a wife. I am a man’s creation as you see, and what men want is what I want to be.” [4] Betty is also portrayed as a woman that was restricted to only fulfilling womanly activities. This is recognized through how Betty has a role to play as a hostess to Mr. Bagley and with her mother emphasizing that she is” looking very pretty tonight.” [5] Readily responding to being the ” angel of the house” shows how she did not, at the start, challenge what society expected her to be;powerless to be anything but a mother and a wife who is in charge of the works of the house.

However, the protagonists comply to their roles differently. Betty remains passive throughout the play and as her mother, Maud states,” The men will do it in the proper way, whatever it is. We have our own part to play.” [6] while Nora goes beyond her domestic duties and takes loans for her husband.” Don’t think its been easy, meeting the payments on time, each time.” [7] She does what she is supposed to which is to take care of her family but takes it a step further, crossing into the domain of the men. This removes her status as” The Victorian Angel in the House”.

To show a kind of ‘imprisonment’ of the protagonists, the playwrights ingeniously tweaked the stage settings of the plays whereby it is only confined within the house or an enclosed area. The stage direction and the stage setting of the two plays are extremely important and symbolic in presenting the plight of women and its implications.

The setting of the play is invariably confined to the four walls of the house. Ibsen does not shifts the scene outside the house at all placing all 3 Acts into the same room with the same main furniture with additional props for the different Acts. [8] It therefore acts as a prison, suppressing and restricting free expression. The natural restricted space of the stage also contributes to the lack of expression and the setting is vital in encapsulating what Ibsen is trying to convey about this enslavement of women . Adapting this, Ibsen could be trying bring the audience into the stage setting of the play, making them feel as confined as the actors are, powerless to what is expected of them from society.

The settings of Cloud 9 are also constrained within the house and its compound in act 1 and the play centre and the park surrounding it in act 2. Caryl Churchill uses stage directions like the reversal of roles of the actors where men where played by women and vice visa. Thus she takes it one step further, emphasising how much the Victorian era was one where they had strict rules about the domestic roles of women. She does this through the homosexuality of the actors where Lin asks Victoria in Act 2,” will you have sex with me.” [9] and although it is more accepted in the period of the modern, it is not during the patriachal society. She also deliberately places 100 years in between the Act 1 and Act 2 but only changing the age of the characters by 25 years. By moving the setting of the play to the twentieth century; the period of the modern, she envelops the characters, their behaviors’ outside the Victorian society to compare them with the modern day. She does this to emphasis the values that are deeply entrenched in the society then, thus allowing the audience to reflect on the much-fixed roles of the genders as compared to the period of the modern.

In both plays, women were seen as objects or dolls which were to be taken care of. The title, A ”doll’s’ house, it represents women in a patriarchal society where they were created, built and structured to suit the temperament of men. This is seen through the conversation between Nora and Torvold where it is extremely child-like and as good as monologue; like a child talking to her doll.” (Nora crossing to the stove)”Yes, Torvold.”(Torvold following) There, there. Poor little songbird, drooping her wings? Little squirrel, making sulky faces? (He takes out his wallet.) Nora, what have I here?(Nora turning quickly). Pennies! [10] ”Dolls are playthings that children are given to satisfy their boredom. Children used them to create worlds from their imagination. From Fixing Patriarchy by Donald E. Hall, “Women, like children, represented the innocence of the natural world which active masculinity must support, protect- and oversee’.” [11] The fact that women were represented as dolls in the play emphasizes how men wanted full control over everything in their lives as dolls were non living objects that were perfect and they were able to dress them however they wanted and mould them to become anything they wanted. Sexual inequality as shown in the play has caused women to be a class second to that of men. Also from Fixing Patriachy,”Women became signifiers of innocence, the spirit, the hearth, but also, at times, of potential disruption, of change and corruption.” [12] Nora views herself as a doll,”if your doll is taken away, perhaps.” [13] and she begins to realise that that was all she was to Torvold, a doll that he could keep around as an obligation that is needed by society.

Dolls are also used in Cloud 9 whereby Edward who is acted by a lady instead of a man, has a tiny obession with the doll that is supposed to be his sister’s. He carrases the doll saying,” She’s not Victoria’s doll, she’s my doll. She doesn’t love Victoria and Victoria doesn’t love her. Victoria never plays with her.”This doll is the cause of most of the conflicts between the members of the household.”(Edward) it was joshua. It was joshua. I saw him” [14] ”(Clive) Don’t tell lies again.” [15] The harsh treatment of the doll by Joshua, [16] ”(act 1,scene 5) joshua takes the knife and cuts the doll open and shakes the sawdust out of it. Jshua trows the doll under the table.’ [17] points out blatently the supremacy and dominance that men had over women. The doll is personified in this case to represent women and their powerlessness. Churchill uses this stage prop to ignite the unacceptable behaviour of homosexuality that exists in the Victorian era in Act 1 as Eward has desires for Mr. Bagley and is protrayed to be femine in nature. Besides that, Betty was also played by a man. Caryl Churchill uses these stage directions to show that Betty wanted what men want her to be. This is a perfect example of the Victorian era where men were dominant and had control over their wives.

However, one contrast exists between the use of the doll in Cloud 9 and A Doll’s House respectively. Churchill uses an actual doll as an extremely significant stage prop to enhance the gravity of sexual inequality and homosexuality that exist within the family seen by the disobedience of Edward as he wants to ” mind her” [18] for Victoria even though he gets scolded and insulted ” Baby. Sissy. Girly.” [19] This exchange of emotions highlights the power struggle and the importance of both genders to keeping within the sphere of their expected roles during the patriachy. On the contrary, Ibsen uses dolls as a metorphor to represent women in the Victorian era and how they lived alongside men, like dolls in a doll’s house which the masculity owned. The used of tone between the couple intitally is one of supression, resembling Torvold talking to Nora as if she was powerless and he possesses her. By being the provider and bestowing pet names,”what a sweet little featherbrain it is. But it swallows up so many pennies. It costs a lot of pennies, to keep a little featherbrain.” [20] to win her over, he leaves Nora powerless to resist his demands, resulting in her begging him to”Can’t we burn just a little? A tiny little.” [21] In addition, the classification of these nicknames mostly belong to frail winged creatures and it forshadows the implications of this supression and control in marriage when Nora leaves, unable to submit and to be powerless against the decisions and choices that she wants to make.

The education of women during the patriachy seems to be extememly vague with no mention of women having gone to school. . According to Harriet Tayor Mill,” Women have been trained to be uninterested in the intellectual and political questions.” [22] The playwirghts might have presented women in that way to show that they were not supposed to be educated because education would mean that they are literate and therefore they are capable of thinking intellectually violating the social norms of that society and violating their domestic roles. This way it forces women to rebel as they are unable to express themselves freely. ”if I’m to come to terms with myself, understand myself, I have to be alone. I can’t stay here.” [23] Nora did exactly that when she decided to leave torvold after going through a period of realisation whereby in the end she wanted to educate herself and be independent. Caryl Churchill showed the contrast of the women leading a domesticated and uneduated life of the Victorian era in Act 1 to the period of the modern where it protrayed the children of Lin and Victoria in a play centre, where Cathy and Tommy are playing and learning together. Education gives women the power to take care of themselves and to compete in the same areas as men, thus not leaving them powerless to society’s expectations.

These expectations of the genders in the patriarchy become the boundaries set by the patriarchy that women could not cross, and were to be confined in. ”You’ve done me a great wrong, Torvold- you, and daddy before you.’ [24] The minority of women like Nora who realises that they have been puppets their whole life, began to think independently and wanted to break free of the patriarchy. Hence, they assert their identity. In the Victorian era, women who were oppressed, and boldly stepping up for what they believe in were a transgression of societal norms. Women were, to paraphrase Donna Heiland in Gothic and Gender, simply the “vessel” in procreation that enabled the father, the ‘life- giver’ to produce life.” [25] Nora ebes on to defy her position as a weak, dependant female with the little small things that she does like ”eating macaroons in secret” [26] and then ”lying about it. ” [27] Betty also attempts to defy her position by wanting to abscond with Mr. Bagley as she tells Ellen,” I love Harry Bagley. I want to go away with him.” [28] 

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The proper roles that exist in society are always under constant scrutiny and change is frown upon. This forces the women from this era to find other means of becoming more significant in the eyes of society. Nora struggles with the constrains of society and her small bouts of rebellion slowly escalates, compiling to her giving up her husband, kids and her home at the same time, just for the sake of her freedom. The trials that Nora been through showed her the pitiful state of her marriage. When the ”the miracle” [29] did not happen, she realises that she can never fully discover herself unless she servers from her husband.

In describing her anticipated freedom ”Free. To be free, absolutely free. To spend time playing with the children. To have a clean beautiful house, the way torvold likes it” [30] , Nora highlights the very factors that constrains her. Her initial interpretation of freedom is by staying at home and being a wife and a mother to her kids. However as time passes, she realises that she wants a different type of freedom and she leaves her family to pursue her ambitions and beliefs. When she slams the door behind her, she renews herself, this time through her actions and not through words. This is done dramatically by Ibsen through only ” (The sound of a door shutting is heard from below.)” [31] The women portrayed in the play shows women who are against the patriarchal society. In spite of the society’s social norms, Nora still tries in defiance to retain her sanity and her individuality, succeeding in the end. Maud, Betty’s mother says that ” the men will do it in the proper way, whatever it is. We have our own part to play.” [32] , showing how the expectations of the society are passed down through generations and that gender roles are deeply embedded into the culture and moral values of the patriachal society.

The rebellion of women causes women to be portrayed in a more complex manner they manage to be both someone who is the “Other” and the “Uncanny”. Inferring from Gothic literature, the “Uncanny” is that which is unsettling, as if supernatural in nature, surpassing the ordinary and normal. As Freud has defined in his essay, the uncanny as” that class of the frightening which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.” [33] And Kelly Hurley in the Gothic Body as one that is” akin and yet distinct from that which is “fearful” [34] Torvold was only attracted to Nora for her beauty, the appearance of what was. ”it must be hushed up. Whatever it costs. As for you and me, we must go on as if nothing had changed between us. In public.” [35] In Cloud 9 as well, Clive was smittened by Mrs Saunders and describes her as ”dark like this continent”,that she” smells amazing.” And is” mysterious” and ”treachrous” [36] . Thus, this could symbolize women to be ”uncanny”. Clive also says that she terrified him and this shows the irony that exists in Gothic society whereby men were afraid of women because their beauty mesmerized and controlled them to some extent. Beauty could appear as something fatal and a threat to men in the patriachal society.

The women present in both plays could be protrayed as Femme Fatale. A Femme Fatale, which by definition means “An irresistibly attractive woman, esp. one who leads men into difficult, dangerous, or disastrous situations; siren.” [37] Women in both plays are portrayed as beautiful in the eyes of their men. This links to the theme of sublimity and its counterpart, beauty which is an exploration of how patriarchal societies sustain threats to their existence. [38] In Edmund Burke’s discussion, “Sublimity is on the whole associated with masculinity, while beauty is explicitly feminine.” [39] The sublime experience is that which involves the sublime subject asserting its superiority over the beautiful object. Sublimity and beauty tie in with Victorian society about how women were portrayed as beautiful objects like dolls to be kept at home. “Beauty on the other hand, wins us over as the serpent won Eve, by charming deception, rendering us as weak as the beautiful object we perceive.” [40] This was the attitude of Victorian Society towards beauty as it was deemed to be dangerous as it could supposedly give women control over men. However, there is conflict, for as much as the men were afraid of beauty, and sought to oppress it, at the same time, they needed it.

The easy seduction of Betty and then later of Victoria, her daughter, changes the stereotypical image of women.” Ellen kisses Betty.” [41] And Lin asks Victoria, ” would you have sex with me?” [42] This destroys the notion that the women only had eyes for their husbands or men as very clearly, the women are finding pleasure in each other. This causes it to focus to the female sexuality, which could be split into what Michael Foucault and Stephen Heath says, “Female sexuality is merely a construct of the patriarchy, having no original definition, and the patriarchy classified it to be either normal or abnormal, and either safe or unsafe for men.” [43] In this case, the relationships that the women have in Cloud 9 falls into the category of being unsafe for men, which shows how relationships were about whether or not they would benefit men and showing the worth of women. Finding pleasure in one another is a way for Betty and Victoria to go against the patriarchy and to embrace female sexuality. They were going against society’s norm by having desires for the same gender. As Foucault writes,” The modern concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘sexuality’ are relics of the Victorian period and signs of shifting relations of power rather than transparent truths of bodily facts.” [44] The women in Cloud 9 turned to each other to satisfy their sexual desires shows the shift in power as Foucault says” as sexual intercourse ceases to be only between men and women as expected in the Victorian era.” [45] The women do not need the men anymore and this presents women in control of the men that are in their lives.

However, one starkling difference between the two women is that while Nora becomes one that is against the patriachy,” The woman I am now is no wife for you.” [46] , Betty still sticks to the same mindset that men need to be in control as she begs Clive to ”Forgive her.” [47] Even though she want to elope with Mr. Bagley, rebeling against the patriachy, she does what is expected of her and of what Clive wants her to do,” I do. I do resist. Help me.” [48] Nora’s rebellion is forshadowed through Ibsen’s stage directions ”The New Year” symbolises a new start for Torvold and Nora as Nora babbles on to Mr. Linde,”He starts in the New Year. A big salary and lots of bonuses. Our lives would be so different. We’ll be able to do anything we want.” [49] The irony is that this new start is something unexpected and different that would change both their lives. The play is set during the holidays with Christmas and the New Year associating with birth and renewal, indicating the change that society faces in terms of women standing up for what they believe in. Thus this presents the interference of the mindset of women through which some are unable to break away from the norm.

Within the patriachal period, men had certain gender roles to fulfil as well. In distancing themselves from the domestic sphere of women, men ironically bar themselves to masculine prowess, just as Clive tells his son, Edward, ” You spend too much time with the women. You may spend more time with me, Uncle Harry, little man.” [50] Masculinity had to be distinguished from the domestic sphere of women. Men created this hierarchy to place themselves above women. Donald E. Hall writes, “This is Victorian patriarchy at its most essential: seemingly, but spuriously, balanced binarism, with decision-making power, the power to definepc, especially, reserved for men.” [51] To sustain the distinct differences of gender roles, both the feminine and the masculine had to ensure that they fulfilled what is expected of them. In the two plays, men were seen to be obliged to have a beautiful wife, children and a home and without this societal norm, they are bound to this fear of not fitting the standards of the society, which imprisons them, putting them on the same status as women. This shows that the women are not the only ones to be oppressed by patriarchal society, as men were restricted too.

With the female ”imprisonment” of the Victorian era ironically comes along with a type of male imprisonment as well. There is a theme of chivalry in the two plays and this is one of the morals that is present in the Victorian era. The chivalric society was bounded by not only the presence of the feminine, but culture, history and psychology. Men were expected to protect women and provide for them as long as the women confined themselves to the outlined roles of their gender. Margaret Fuller speaks despairingly of men” under the slavery of habit” [52] suggesting only that” women must leave off asking them and being influenced by them”, because men are thoroughly entrenched in oppresive patterns, are culturly encode for domination. [53] In this pattern that the men lived by, they themselves are led to becoming restricted because they too now had a standard to uphold. This meant that without women, the Chivalric society would not exist as there would be nothing that they need to compete with each other for. In ”The Broad-Stone of Honour”, Kenelm Henry Digby gives the definition: “Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world.” [54] The thematic idea of Chivalry is seen in both plays through how they encompasses the idea of a family along with the protection and the well-being of the women. The presence of the guns in Cloud 9 could be an indication of armed men so that they are able to protect the women in their lives. Clive tells the women in the house,” Everything all right? Nothing to be frightened of.” [55] Betty says” you can go. You’re a he.” [56] These shows that how much the women depended on their men to protect them and that the patricachy does include that women should be protected by the men.

In conclusion, it can be seen that women were initally protrayed as weak and powerless, ones who were for the patriachy. The struggle to becoming a new womam who is accepted by society and who is more than just the sterotypical wife of the family is also explored in the disccussions of this essay. A power shift is also subtly seen from the masculine to the feminine, caused by the subjugation of distinct gender roles and of women becoming the ” uncanny”, which brought about the ”improsionment’ of men in addition to female imprisonment. These present women as they are seen in the Victorian era under the rules and morals of the patriachy.


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