Can't Find Sympathy

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YOUNG WOMAN. I'll kill you - Maybe I am crazy - I don't know. Sometimes I think I am - the thoughts that go on in my mind - sometimes - I think I am - I can't help it if I am - I do the best  can - I do the best I can and I'm nearly crazy! (MOTHER rises and sits) Go away! Go away! You don't know anything about anything! And you haven't got any pity - no pity - you just take it for granted that I go to work every day - and come home every night and bring my money every week - you just take it for granted - you'd let me go on forever - and never feel any pity - (p.19)
Machinal--Sophie Treadwell

After the introduction I truly felt for Treadwell wedged in a belittling environment she somehow managed to prevail in spite of. Going into the reading I had an open mind about the play. Except scene after scene, that same sense of empathy did not carry over to the leading role. To be blunt I thought the woman, Helen, selfish. On the surface she appears to be a young woman who sacrifices her desires, true love, to provide for her mother.  But she is not genuine in any of the deeds she does. She takes care of her mom but expects pity and gratification.  (People who offer something and expect something in return are not gracious.)  She marries but not for love. (Whether she feels forced or not she has a choice in the matter--she could have declined.) She has a child and does not want the child.  The character is a shell of a person, and living that way was her decision. She speaks of nothing but herself, and feeling tight inside. I know the play is meant to show a woman fighting to determine her own life: a submissive woman who is tired of submitting.  Still, there were parts that I found very off-putting. Especially the end of episode four (p.30); she is rambling about downed puppies not going to heaven, and her bald little girl.  Upset this child doesn't have curls all over or that it wasn't a boy, she wonders about Gods hair, then quickly decides it doesn't matter everyone must love God, even if God is bald with fat hands; as if, she rejected her baby because of the child's hair, hated the man she married because he had fat hands, or worse wanted to drown the baby because vixen had eight puppies, all drowned?  Maybe I am missing some key component to the story that changes the message, but I see a neurotic, selfish woman.

Since I found this play difficult to sympathize with I figured a more informed understanding of the author, the story, and the time period would be helpful. Below is a link to futher information about Machinal: Language and Slang of the Time
                                         Murder Trial of Ruth Brown Snyder
                                         Marriage Laws in 1920's
                                         The Electric Chair




April, that's a great resource you found. Thanks for posting it.

Carlos Peredo said:

I totally agree! I can appreciate the author trying to portray how women are often trapped and forced into lives they don't want. Marriage for money or power was the norm, and expected. I can also understand how a woman would want something more than this and would feel constrained by it. However, that is NOT an excuse to hate yourself and everything about your life.

If you want to be free, go be free. If you don't want to marry someone, then don't marry them. Sure, finding another job might be hard, but obviously not too hard if you found this one in the first place.

Ultimately, it isn't anyone's fault but her own. She chose marriage, and by doing so, she chose to have a child. (Let's face it, one didn't happen without the other at the time.) If she wanted to be free so much she could have run off to Mexico where there is clearly freedom. Instead, she kills her husband as if she's going to get away with it. She's clearly neurotic and selfish, and as much as I know I'm supposed to sympathize with her, it just ain't happening.

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Carlos Peredo on Can't Find Sympathy: I totally agree! I can appreci
Dennis G. Jerz on Can't Find Sympathy: April, that's a great resource
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