Murderess or Victim?

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HUSBAND. Your garter! Your garter! Say did I tell you the one about -

            YOUNG WOMAN. Yes! Yes!

            HUSBAND (with dignity). How do you know which one I meant?

            YOUNG WOMAN. You told me them all!

HUSBAND (pulling her back to his knee). No, I didn't! Not by jugful! I got a lot of 'em  up my sleeve yet - that's part of what I owe my success to - my ability to spring a good story - You know - you got to relax, little girl - haven't you?

(Treadwell 23-24)


            Treadwell's Machinal addresses many social issues that plagued American society during the late 1920's. The foremost would be the position of women during this period; it was a time inflamed with the suffragette movement, with women demanding equality. In Machinal the husband is referred to in the script as "HUSBAND" while the man's wife is referred to as "YOUNG WOMAN," not "WIFE." The age difference between the husband and wife in this play is evidenced in his description of her as a "little girl" (Treadwell 24). The way he addresses his wife also reflects his disregard for her as a potentially independent and intelligent young woman; he is older, smarter, and worldlier, and he sees her as possessing none of those characteristics. Throughout the drama YOUNG WOMAN seems to yield to the wishes of the men in her life. It is not until her impending death that she vocalizes this frustration, "Submit! Submit! Is nothing mine?" (Treadwell 79).

Treadwell utilizes dialogue that is disjointed and choppy throughout the novel. This is present even when HUSBAND makes an extended speech, "- that's part of what I owe my success to - my ability to spring a good story - You know - you got to relax, little girl - haven't you?" (Treadwell 24). Even more disjointed are the few passages in which YOUNG WOMAN is left alone with her thoughts. It is in these soliloquies that YOUNG WOMAN expresses her frustration and confusion. It is in these passages that she seems insane, "- I want to rest - no rest - earn - got to earn - married - earn - no - yes - earn - all girls - most girls - ma - pa - ma - all women - most women - I can't - must - maybe..." (Treadwell 12). There is a similar rant during her post - pregnancy stay at the hospital. The annoying way in which HUSBAND is portrayed in both his condescension towards his wife and the way he communicates in the play, "Well hurry up then! I thought you women didn't wear much of anything these days - huh? Huh? I'm coming in!....All right. Just a minute....13-14-I'm counting the seconds on you -"(Treadwell 25) combined with the young woman's pitiable position and obvious unhappiness makes the murder almost understandable to the audience.

Unlike Daisy in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby who is portrayed as having much power over the men in her life, YOUNG WOMAN in Treadwell's Machinal seems helpless. Daisy is beautiful and holds the attention of many men which she uses and manipulates; it's "said that Daisy's murmur was only to make people lean toward her" (Fitzgerald 9). Treadwell's main character, on the other hand, does not have the ability to control her own destiny, much less that of others. Daisy, then, becomes an unsympathetic character who is at the root of the problems with which Fitzgerald's characters are faced. Despite her obvious crimes of adultery and murder, it is easy to see Treadwell's female character as a victim of society and empathize with her plight. This, however, may work against Treadwell's ultimate attempt to discuss and insight a change in the position of women in society. Creating a female victim does not show the strength of women to overcome obstacles but instead represents them as vulnerable and dependent.


Christopher Dufalla said:

This is a very interesting point that you bring up about the use of "YOUNG WOMAN" as opposed to "WIFE" within the play. A simple explanation could be that they don't want to change the character's title since she was not always a wife in the story, but the idea that it could possibly symbolize her struggle for independence is quite good. I hadn't thought very much of the characters' titles, but now I'm going to consider reading even closer.

Women were indeed struggling for a freedom during this time, much in the same way that the Young Woman is struggling to free herself and have something, anything, to herself in this crazy mixed up world.

I wondered the same thing about the "Young Woman" and "Wife." I wondered why after the marriage why it never changed... I thought maybe it was to help keep her straight as the Young Woman.
It does seem as though because she is still being called "Young Woman" that she isn't that old or mature enough to be called a wife. Because she doesn't act like a grown up.. she continues to act like a young woman.

Alyssa Sanow said:

The other side of that equation is that while she is having the affair, while the audience sees her in the other man's bedroom, she is not Young Woman - she is just Woman. This could be because Treadwell is trying to convey something carnal about their relationship. But it could also be because the Young Woman has finally discovered herself, happiness, and that eternally illusive freedom she's always searching for. In having this affair, she becomes a woman in her own right.

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