Dr. Elizabeth Davies-Stofka
LIT 115 C11
8 May 2014
Tea and Trifles
Tea Party, by Betty Keller, gives an in depth view of two elderly sisters as they make preparations to visit with the paper boy for when he comes to collect the monthly money due. In this short but powerful drama, one can experience all the emotional turmoil that the sisters go through daily, as no one other than the small service providers, for example the paper boy and meter man, visit the women. The central action in this play consists of the sisters waiting desperately for the paper boy to arrive so they have someone to hear their stories. The boy never does come inside, and so the sisters are left alone with the sad realization that the world has forgotten them. Even after the cold shoulder from the paper boy, the sisters hang onto to a sliver of hope that someone will one day hear their stories as they plan for the arrival of the next bill collector: “They don’t read the meters for two more weeks” (Keller 1274). The disparity of their situation is fully encompassed in this quote, as they truly have no one but each other.
This play illustrates the world of individuals passed by, and conveys their denial and eventual awareness of their predicaments. Even though it is short, Tea Party provided a powerful message to me about the forgotten world of the elderly. The author is conveying that it is so easy to pass over those who have experienced so much life and forget how much we matter to them, and them to us. There is much to be learned from them if we only spare the time.
In Trifles, by Susan Glaspell, the play begin with two married couples and an attorney investigating a recent murder scene. A wife has been accused of having murdered her husband and is sent to jail while the investigation is ongoing. As the men search for the obvious upstairs, the women
uncover the small, hidden details. These details are considered trifles to the men, but the inclinations of the women ultimately lead to their discovery of a small, strangled bird. This bird had made the accused woman very happy in the past, and was a symbol of her blissful life before the marriage. She had loved the bird, and they knew she would have not harmed it herself. The women realize that this wife had been in an unhappy and abusive marriage. Fully sympathizing with the accused wife and finding her motive to kill her husband just, they decide to hide the evidence of the bird to protect her.
I felt the play had a feminist approach, as the females in the play were diminished by the male characters and yet they were the only ones who could truly solve the crime. Examples of the discrimination by the men include the women generally enter following behind the men, and being referred to as simply ‘the women’ throughout the play. Mrs. Peters seems to represent an older generation used to the sexism as she is more firm in her ways and submissive to her husband, while Mrs. Hales seems more aware and concerned of the accused Mrs. Wright’s plight: “I know how things can be- for women…we all go through the same things-it’s all just a different kind of the same thing” (Glaspell 1269). Throughout this play, there is a beautiful metaphor with the idea that Mrs. Wright’s happiness was killed when her husband killed her canary, and how that parallels the oppression that men had over women during that time in history.
An aside is something one character says that the others cannot hear and are not aware of. It is a thought expressed that is meant for the audience or character alone.
Soliloquy refers to a character essentially talking to themselves. It is a longer speech like a monologue, only there is no one else around to hear, save for the audience.
A monologue is a longer than average response from one character to another. Often that character’s response is long and drawn out, or guilty of rabbit trailing.
Foil is in regards to character traits when comparing one to the other. When compared, foiled characters highlight each others differences and contrasts.
A fairy god mother appearing out of nowhere to save the seemingly hopeless situation is an example of deus ex machina. It is an unexpected event that turns a sour situation sweet, and saves the day when all hope seems lost.
The Sincerity of a Farce
The Importance of being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, tells the story of John, a young and free spirited man, whom thrives through a fictional identity he calls Ernest. John uses this character as an excuse to leave his country home from time to time and journey to London, where he stays with his close friend Algernon. John has won the heart of his friend Algeron’s cousin, Gwendolen, for she finds the name of Ernest inspiring. Lady Bracknell, the mother of Gwendolen, greatly disapproves and is even more upset when she discovers that John was an orphan who was simply left in a handbag at a train station. John heads home to the country in hopes of finding a surrogate parent to satisfy Lady Bracknell. He arrives only to find that Algernon had crept back before him, and in the meantime had fallen madly in love with the beautiful Cecily, John’s young ward, who also happened to be infatuated with the name Ernest. Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen end up arriving too, and this causes even more pandemonium. At the end we learn that Miss Prism, whom looks after Cecily, is the one who twenty years ago misplaced the baby of Lady Bracknell’s brother. Therefore John’s name is actually Ernest, and he is Algernon’s elder brother. The play ends with everyone perfectly happy with the two couples speaking of marriage in joyous embraces.
I believe one of Wilde’s main purpose in writing this play was to provide humor to entertain and provoke laughter from the audiences. He wrote it as a satire, essentially mocking the upper classes of that time. He presents the superficial and minor issues of the rich in a blown out and comical proportion to show the ridiculousness of their petty problems. He also pokes fun at marriage in general, targeting the wealthy again as he shows his characters being interviewed for proposals, and ultimately
considering marriage as more of a financial contact. Finally, he uses the trivial and false interactions of the aristocrats of that time. For example, showing the young ladies that have just met instantly bonding for appearance when they become enemies just moments later, as Gwendolen states “Something tells me that we are going to be great friends. I like you already more than I can say” (Wilde Act II). This shows the fleeting emotions of the characters used to take advantage one another.
In order to make his satirical play as effective as possible, Wilde created stock characters that were easy to stereotype and represent the given classes he was trying to summarize. Since this play was farce, the characters were somewhat limited to begin with. There is nothing too out of the ordinary for those times or unique about his characters. They are rather trivial and shallow to make better use of the exaggerated situations, namely the proposals. Lady Bracknell is perhaps the most stock of all, used as a pure representation of the typical Aristocratic mother of that time, snooty, brief, and all-knowing.
Although the characters are stock and the plot predictable, to an extent, the character’s eccentricities are the keystone of the play. The ending itself is not very foreseeable, as you do not expect everything to work out for these trivial souls in the end. The play was very satirical, entertaining, and illuminating to the lives of the Aristocrats in the late eighteen hundreds. Watching the key players interact with one another and with the so-called normal characters, such as Merriman and Mrs. Prism, brings about a hilarious, hectic climax and happy ending.
I very much enjoyed The Bear, by Anton Chekhov. This play was also farce, so as I read it with that mindset, I was able to find humor all throughout. The story introduces the widowed Popov in mourning. Smirnov comes by one day to collect a debt. They end up having a huge fight, which ends up turning into a romance and marriage proposal. A huge part of the humor was the characters themselves. They were written without any restraint and appeared almost child like at times. For example, Smirnov and Popov’s ridiculous attitudes towards each other in the beginning, as they were
blatant and exaggerated, were very funny on their own. Perhaps the most entertaining scene was when Smirnov challenged Popov to a duel. The challenge was comical enough as a proposal, so when Popov actually agreed, I knew I was in for some excitement! The icing on the cake was when Popov admitted she knew nothing about firing guns: “But before we start, you’d better show me how it’s done. I’m not too familiar with these things. In fact I never gave a pistol a second look” (Chekhov 1600). And Smirnov’s eventual response seeping with infatuation was absurdly entertaining. “You hold it this way. (Aside) My Lord, what eyes she has! They’re setting me on fire” (Chekhov 1600).
I would describe a satire in regards to drama as a use of humor, irony and sarcasm to present through the stage how absurd and ridiculous some people’s conduct and ideas are. Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest fits this definition perfectly in regards to his blatant mocking of the Aristocratic lifestyle of that time to produce a humorous work.
Stock Characters show only one facet of a personality and are usually portraying a stereotype. They are normally lacking dimensions and are very predictable when it comes to thoughts and actions. For example, Miss Prism from The Importance of Being Earnest is a one-dimensional stock character, as she stereotypes an older single woman, with a pent-up life. This character is easy going and beamish with no real depth, and it appears as though her only purpose is to add in bits of humor and help to unravel the plot.
Puns, double entendres, and clever arrangements of words are some examples of word play. The key is to create something clever or comical with the words that directly relates to the play’s characters or meaning. The Importance of Being Earnest is a perfect example of this, as earnest is in the title of the play, and the pseudonym for two characters is the name Ernest. This is comical because their actions throughout all the play, are anything but earnest in intent.
with which he borrowed from his own works and made exagerations of real to life situations.
An excellent example of a farce is The Importance of Being Earnest, as the situations are greaty exagerrated and nearly impossible. For example, it is unrealistic how easily and quickly both couples fall in love with each other, and the great lengths they go to for proposals is absurd.
A very captivating and powerful play by Langston Hughes, Mulatto captures a family’s struggle with racial discrimination and interracial relationships. Exposition covers a play’s setting, introduces main characters, and shares background information pertinent to the story. For Mulatto, the setting is the nineteen thirties on a deep south plantation in Georgia. We are introduced to the main characters, and my take on them is as follows: Colonel Thomas Norwood is a determined old man, very stuck in his ways. You can tell deep down, he once had a soft spot, or inklings of a heart. However, pressure from his peers and the times only increased his bad thoughts and habits, and pressed him to abandon his good wills. Cora Lewis is a kind hearted mother, who truly values her children above all else. She wants the best for them, and would sacrifice everything for their safety and happiness. She holds the family together. William Lewis is the eldest child. He seems to carry an underlying desire to maintain peace above all else. He doesn’t want to cause strife, especially for his family. Sallie Lewis is the very intelligent younger sister of William, whom is currently studying at college. She is also respectful and kind hearted. Robert Lewis is a vibrant young man, brimming with vibrancy and boldness. He is very sure of himself, as well as his beliefs. He cares for his family, especially his mother. Above all, Robert will not live his life in fear, even if it means a short life. Fred Higgins is a rusty old man, very stuck in his ways. Higgins is extremely prejudicial, as well as very weaselly in regards to politics. Sam, a servant of the Colonel, has accepted life the way it is, and having found a semi-comfortable position, he refuses to cause a stir. Billy, the son of William, is a young, light hearted boy of five. Talbot the
overseer is a nasty, cruel hearted man. Mose, chauffeur for Higgins, is very timid and quiet. It appears as though there’s no fight left in him.
The rising actions in this play are the events that lead to the climax. One event is when Higgins shows up at the plantation to speak with the Colonel. He mentions that he had seen Bert driving obnoxiously down the road, which brings him to suggest that the Colonel has been too lax, “You been to decent to your darkies, Norwood. That’s what’s the matter with you. And then the whole country suffers from a lot of impudent bucks who take lessons from your crowd” (Hughes 1623). Another rising action is when Bert returns home from dropping off his sister, and blatantly defies the Colonel by using the front entrance, when it has been clearly designated in the past that only white people are to enter through the front door. Bert shows no remorse and openly confronts the Colonel on that matter, as well as others. This scene is another piece stacked on the jenga puzzle that ultimately collapses under pressure at the end of the play.
Climax refers to the point in the play where everything peaks and reaches the highest form of intensity. The culmination of all events leading up to this point erupt into chaos when in a heated argument, Bert strangles the Colonel to death. The frustration from his childhood years and lack of love and respect from his father pushes Bert to act on a moment’s feeling. This action puts his entire family at risk as well, and causes him to flee. However, Bert does not seem to regret his actions, and staying true to his beliefs, proceeds to leave by slowly walking through the prohibited front door.
The falling action is what takes place between the climax and conclusion. In this play, the falling action takes place shortly after Bert flees to the woods. Left alone in the house with the Colonel’s body, Cora has two powerful soliloquies where she reflects on her past as she is hit with the reality of the future. Many emotions circle in and out through her mind in regards to the Colonel and her children. These moments bring us down from the heightened climax, and prepare us for the resolution.
The conclusion or resolution of a play is exactly what it sounds like. It is resolving all matters, answering most questions, and bringing the drama to a close. In Mulatto, Bert is unable to evade the angry mob, and returns home to his mother with the pursuers hot on his tail. Cora had prepared a hiding place for Bert, but he declines saying “No time to hide, ma…They’ll be coming in everywhere. And only one bullet left, ma. It’s for me” (Hughes 1637). Cora calmly accepts his fate and sincerely wishes her boy goodnight for the last time. Her last words to the mob are “My boy…is gone…to sleep!” (Hughes 1637), signifying her peace and resolve at the end of the story.
Although this play covers racial discrimination, as well as interracial relationships, I think a main underlying theme in this play is family. It is about how this family interacts, and the strife that the racial strains of this time caused. The stresses go so far as to drive Bert to complete an act filled with anger and rage. Had the family life and upbringing been different, Bert would have not been driven to kill the Colonel.
Many characters appear in Mulatto, but one of the key players is Cora. Hughes showed her to be a kind hearted mother, whose care for her children superseded all else. She wants the best for them, and would sacrifice everything for their safety and happiness. Protecting her children is Cora’s super-objective for the play. She holds her emotions in at first, building up throughout, and then everything pours out as the story climaxes.
Hughes released this play in a time that was still experiencing the circumstances entertained in his work. Historically, his play was written very accurately and partially autobiographically, and he used current situations and issues at hand. This drama was also set in the same time it was written. Culturally at this time, the Mulattos were striving to gain equality in society that asserted White superiority and belittled Negroes. This play was very significant when it was first performed, as the issues presented were very fresh and real to the audience of that time. Even though some may have rejected it, it has shed light on the Mulatto world and was a step towards equality. In our modern world,
we may not have the same racial issues-or at least as severe- as the early nineteen hundreds, but our history will always be important. Mulatto teaches us powerful lessons about equality and family that are applicable today.
A Modern Tragic Hero
Arthur Miller’s Willy in Death of a Salesman does not fit Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero, as his classification constitutes a noble man of great honor and wealth. Although Willy Loman is a common man, and is not a model citizen of the standard tragic hero concept, he still bears the mark of a tragic flaw. Like classic Greek figures, he wavers through life, never fully acknowledging or addressing the issues at hand. It is painful to watch, as it appears to the reader that the answer is right in front of him. Willy is disenchanted with the world around him, but he refuses to declare himself as a possible source of the trouble: “There’s more people! That’s what’s ruining this country! The competition is maddening! Smell the stink from that apartment house! And the one on the other side” (Miller 1460). Refusing to admit to and truly face the issues at hand, he is driven mad and ultimately takes his own life.
Willy does have a point in the play, however diminutive, where he admits to some shortcomings. Towards the end, as things are falling apart and a doomed ending is near, it’s as if Mr. Loman finally comes to the realization that he will never reach his dreamed financial state. His time had passed, and there was no going back. This is important in the context of American culture, as a huge part of the “American Dream” is reaching a near perfect financial state of being. This dream Willy had been chasing ultimately led to his downfall. Although not tragic in the classic sense, it is a tragedy in the world of American heroes.
There is another tragedy as well, regarding the relationship between father and son. Willy had such high hopes for Biff, and even later in life after many failures and realizations, he could not accept
his son’s chosen path. Constantly trying to pitch new ideas and guilt trip his son, Willy stopped at nothing to make Biff achieve the success that was lost to him. Biff is exasperated by the end, wanting nothing more than his father to love him and appreciate the path he had chosen for himself: “Will you let me go for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?” (Miller 1513).Even into his death, Willy forces his aspirations down Biff’s throat, hoping his life insurance money will urge him to finally get a good start. It’s painful to watch the two battle so often, when each one only wants to make the other happy. This never-ending pattern serves to be, perhaps, the play’s most tragic issue.
Although Willy wasn’t famous, there is still much to be learned from his life. Although a common man might not have a ripple effect of a renowned king, he is that much easier for people to relate to. One is more likely to respect and learn from a person whom has been in their shoes (or close to it) than one that lives worlds away. Classic tragic heroes are an escape from ourselves, and common ones; a window to our souls.
I would define plot complication as the part where conflict develops in progression of the plot. Plot complication can be just about anything, including death, war, love gone wrong, financial catastrophe, and natural disasters. It can also include simple things, such as a dog getting out, a cup of milk tipping over, or an antique vase crashing to the floor.
Denouement is the beginning of the resolution at the climax of a dramatic play or film. I would classify at the “Ah hah!” moment, where everything is revealed and missing pieces fall perfectly into place. It gives meaning behind the plot complications, and helps tie the story together.
Specifically relating to plays and films that classify as a tragedy, a tragic flaw is an aspect of the tragic hero that ultimately leads to his ruin. It is an imperfection within himself that takes him down from the inside out. For example, in Death of a Salesman, Loman’s tragic flaw was that he was so caught up in pursuing the ideal American dream, he lost touch with the real world and ultimately could
not differentiate between fantasy, past, and reality.
Derived from Ancient Greek, mimesis is said to have a variety of meanings. In regards to drama, it would be best described as simulated behavior and situations from the real world projected onto the stage. It is what makes the play or film real, by using true to life scenarios that people can relate to.
Catharsis, also from Ancient Greek, can relate to the tragic hero or audience. It is a form of cleansing or release from negative emotions. It is a painful process that yields beneficial results to both the character and audience.
In classic and modern drama, there are two main characters that are meant to represent opposite sides of a given spectrum. The protagonist is generally classified as the hero, and the one whom undergoes the dramatic changes. This is the character that the audience is meant to relate to. The antagonist is the rival of the protagonist. The antagonist is not always necessarily a villain, but someone who opposes the protagonist.
Like mimesis, psychological realism in relation to drama is a representation of the real world. It specifically connects to the emotions and experiences of the characters. The idea is that although fictional, these characters not only represent real life, they truly experience the daily thoughts and emotions that every day people go through. We are meant to truly connect to these characters, and everything they go through is genuine and applicable to our lives.
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