Life is a Machine.
"YOUNG WOMAN. I've been free father, for one moment, down here on earth, I have been free. When I did what I did, I was free. Free, and not afraid. How is that, Father? How can that be? I great sin, a mortal sin, for which I must die and go to hell, but it made me free! One moment, I was free then, how is that Father? Tell me that." Treadwell, page 80
"Let me alone! I want to be free!" Treadwell, page 30
"YOUNG WOMEN: All free?
HUSBAND: All free." Treadwell, page 58
"MAN: Oh, you're free down there, you're free." Treadwell, page 49
Throughout this play, Treadwell uses a recurring theme freedom. All Helen Jones desires is to feel as though she is free. She feels trapped because she is expected to follow suit and be married to a man who she does not love, but is aware that love should be felt in a marriage. The characters around her throughout the work, such as TELEPHONE GIRL, all seem to be happy-go-lucky and carefree. She has the type of freedom that Helen desires. Even in the bar, with the two men and TELEPHONE GIRL, she desires to "keep moving," and wants to learn more of having fun and having a real life. She is trapped by her husband, her child, her work, and her dependent mother. Once her life is free from work, it is consumed by the cage of having a loveless marriage, and after her childbirth, she is so disgusted with her husband that it brings her to point of gagging. She has a feeling like she's "all tight inside," that she feels "she's going to die," if she is not free from all of her stresses. Treadwell depicts these feelings of the character via actions, like the gagging, and the constant strings of thought that you hear the character mumble while she is alone. She panics, which makes her need for freedom apparent throughout the drama.
"She is soft and tender, and everything else is hard, mechanical." (from the summary at the beginning of the play)
I thought it was a bit ironic that Helen desires so much freedom, and once she finally gets it, by killing her husband along with having a lover, she ruins her own freedom and ends up in jail, facing the electric chair. The irony is furthered by the fact that she is so soft (ie: the soft hands, etc.) and is taken by Treadwell through such hard, automatic stages of life, where she can't fit in. Once her freedom is accomplished, and she finally feels relief, Helen, the soft girl, is destroyed by a machine, the electric chair, and the reporter begs the question, "will the machine work?" and, we know as reader, of course it will, "it always works," and it is automatic, much like the life the character has been going through over the course of the play. Everything, life, death, is all automatic, like a machine.
course website: http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/02/treadwell_machinal/