September 12, 2005

Machinal 1-5

“I've spent a lifetime looking for you
Single bars and good time lovers, never true
Playing a fools game, hoping to win
Telling those sweet lies and losing again.

I was looking for love in all the wrong places
Looking for love in too many faces
Searching your eyes, looking for traces
Of what.. I'm dreaming of...
Hopin' to find a friend and a lover
God bless the day I discover
Another heart, lookin' for love

When I was alone then, no love in sight
And I did everything I could to get me through the night
Don't know where it started or where it might end
I turn to a stranger, just like a friend

I was looking for love in all the wrong places
Looking for love in too many faces
Searching your eyes, looking for traces
Of what.. I'm dreaming of...
Hopin' to find a friend and a lover
God bless the day I discover
Another heart, lookin' for love”
-Waylon Jennings

Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 drama Machinal is a sensational tale of murder, mischief, and man-hating. First and foremost, the sensation of the work isn’t the murder, nor the mischief: it is the man-hating. The work centers on the life of a young woman, Helen Jones, who is desperate to escape her nag mother and more desperate to marry. Her desperation is not what drags her into her loveless marriage – it is her isolation. In certain parts of the play, the Young Woman delivers long monologues that sound utterly senseless but are imperative to understand the nature of her thoughts. This stream of consciousness delivery is indicative to the interworkings of the troubled mind. She is burdened by a nagging mother and anxious to find a man to love and take her away from her problems. Once she finds a man, though not the prince she sought, and is married, she can not tolerate him. She has a child to him, and does not even want to hold the child. A child was a person she once talked about wanting, a boy with curls on his head. She got a girl, and was not satisfied. Finally, one evening she took a lover. The lover, also a rock-filled-bottle-murderer, turned her world upside down for days and made her feel happy. She wanted to go with him, but could not because of the circumstances: marriage, the child, etc.. In the end, the lover gave her a lily and fond memories of times not monotonous, or filled with the fat hands of her husband It was the lover’s testimony in the end that helped seal her fate when she was on trial for the murder of her husband, Mr. Jones. Perhaps it was the guilt she felt at the moment for killing her husband that made her confess, or perhaps it was the longing she felt for the only man that had ever made her feel complete that made her come clean of her crimes. The world will never know. However, all through the work, whenever Helen Jones got what she thought she wanted, she grew angrier and more alone.
It is interesting to note that on pages 9, 26, 80, and 83, Helen Jones is always asking for “someone,” “something,” or “somebody.” It is this constant quest that is weighing her down and ruining her experience as a human. She is never quite fulfilled by what she has, but can not transcend the present realities of life or accept her life as it is. Though, around her, she sees people that are seemingly satisfied. The girl in her office is comfortable living her promiscuous lifestyle, men in the bars are comfortable cheating on their wives, and the gay man in the bar is comfortable seducing a young boy: all these people are looking for a sort of acceptance through their sexual misadventures, perhaps what they are looking for is love.
Parts of the play are reminiscent to the writings of Hemingway: the scene in the bar when the young couple is discussing whether to “have the rather simple procedure” or not, is similar to the conversation the American and Jig have in Hemingway’s work “Hills Like White Elephants.” It is interesting to note, the couple uses almost the exact phraseology to talk about the operation as the American and Jig use in Hemingway’s work.
It is also interesting to note, in the script she reads as Young Woman. Men in the play constantly address her as girl, and associate her with chaste-filled ways. Even when she does have a semi-scandalous affair, the music playing in the background is “Little Heaven,” and her lover calls her, “angel.”

YOUNG WOMAN: (crying out) Ma! Ma! I want my mother.
HUSBAND: I thought you were glad to get away from her.
YOUNG WOMAN: I want her now – I want somebody.
HUSBAND: You got me, haven’t you?
YOUNG WOMAN: Somebody – somebody -
HUSBAND: There’s nothing to cry about. There’s nothing to cry about.

The young woman is about to consummate her newly minted marriage. All through out the opening scenes of the book, the young woman is searching for ‘somebody.’ Finally, she marries somebody – but he is not someone enough to satisfy her yearning.

When she tells her new husband she wants her mom, he reacts in a semi – surprised manner; the entire time (until this point), the young woman wants to escape her mother’s home and live as a wife. This conversation indicates one of the play’s many themes: the young woman’s unfilled desire and youthful confusion about what she wants. The young woman knows what life looks like – or what other peoples’ lives look like, yet she can not make her life fit into any mold that suits her.

The husband fulfills his husbandly – humanly – duties: he comforts her and reassures her that he’s there for her, despite her incessant need for someone else. This scene also foreshadows the later problems this duo will face.

“Somebody” proves an interesting word choice: on pages 9 and 80, the young woman wants ‘somebody.’ Her want goes unfulfilled; even when she is about to be put to death, she continues to want. It is a terrible way to live – always wanting. Perhaps Treadwell is making a statement about the humdrum, monotonous lull lives can fall into when one starts to work and continues the same pattern daily. Maybe the playwright is commenting on the changing needs of women in society. However, there’s a higher appeal here: the appeal asks us to behave more humanely. If someone is struggling on their search for somebody, then others should help them by showing love rather than apathy as the young woman’s co-workers and mother show in the work. A resolve to make a person’s life more comfortable in the long run is indeed profitable to the other part, as well as to the self.

Posted by KatieAikins at September 12, 2005 2:55 PM

TO go back to the ever popular question: is this a "feminist" play? Also, since we just discussed it, would you consider this a well-made play?

Posted by: Katie Lambert at September 13, 2005 12:40 AM


I don't think it is a well-made play because it does not really meet any of those sitcom-esque requirements.

Feminist, maybe? Angry woman trapped in loveless marriage not knowing what she really wants, yes. I don't think we can call everything a feminist. It is too broad and all encompassing the way we throw the word around....

See you soon, my dear friend.


Posted by: KatieAikins at September 13, 2005 2:36 PM