A Feminist Analysis of Cloud Nine Essay

This essay has a total of 2181 words and 8 pages.

A Feminist Analysis of Cloud Nine

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 African tribes that border their home, Maud makes
the statement "I don't think it is up to us to wonder. The men don't tell us what is going
on among the tribes, so how can we possibly make a judgment?" (Churchill, 818) Several
lines later she continues saying, "You would not want to be told about it, Betty. It is
enough for you that Clive knows what is happening. Clive will know what to do. Your father
always knew what to do" (818). Maud is conscious of her class and her standing within it.
She therefore strongly adheres to the institutions that come along with it.

Class bias determines attitude of people to social relations and culture (Bryant-Bertail,
2). The character of Betty was brought up in a Victorian era where proper upper class
women were objects intended to please their respective men; their function was to be
pleasing and reproductive, not to think. In the second act of the play Betty shows how her
attitude toward women has been skewed by her Victorian upbringing in a conversation she
has with Lin:

Lin: Have you any women friends?
Betty: I've never been so short of men's company that I've had to bother with women.
Lin: Don't you like women?
Betty: They don't have such interesting conversations as men. There has never been a woman
composer of genius. They don't have a sense of humor. They spoil things for themselves
with their emotions. I can't say I do like women very much, no.

Lin: But you're a woman.
Betty: There's nothing says you have to like yourself. (Churchill, 828)

It becomes pretty obvious that Betty's class biases have limited her relationships with
women so much that she can't even say she likes herself.

Women's place in the economy has traditionally been working in the home rather than
"outside" in the marketplace (Bryant-Bertail, 2). A prime example of this kind of thinking
can be found in the Act Two version of Betty. After Betty leaves Clive, she is forced to
get a job. Working is a completely new concept for her and at first it seems to frighten
her, but after a while she seems to enjoy it. Maud is also a good example; she asserts
several times in Act One that she believes that a woman's place is in the home.

The objectification of women is often tied to economic privilege and profit making
(Bryant-Bertail, 2). This can be easily found if one observes Clive's relationships with
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