Feminism I like? Nope, I was wrong

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Boy, as I started reading this play I thought a feminist had finally come along that had earned my sympathy. I thought surely I was finally going to read a piece of feminist literature that didn't drive me wild with hatred of the main character. Our young woman is certainly not one of Chopin's characters in <i>The Awakening.</i> Nope, as I made it through the first two episodes of Treadwell's work I deeply sympathized with our heroin.

She didn't seem to be making the tragic mistake of falling in love with a man because he's nice and compliments her and has money (as has usually been the case in the feminine literature I've read.) No, it seemed to me that our young woman was stuck between doing what she knew was right, and doing what she knew she had to do. I knew that when she married this man (as she would have to in order for her life to become miserable enough for the book to be feminist) it was going to be out of necessity.

And then episode three came along and ruined it for me. I mean I can understand that she doesn't love the man and is even repulsed by him. But in my mind, she knew what she was getting in to. Yes she was thrust into unfortunate circumstances that leave her little choice but to marry him, but she may as well play the game right. It's not as though she married him hoping she could use his hospitality and his money without expecting to have to sleep with him, live with him, give birth to his children, and you know, be his wife. This is the twenties after all! If she wasn't prepared to do these things for him than she should have turned him down and sought work elsewhere. She knew what she was getting in to it and she should just bite the bullet and live with the consequences. But then again if she did that, then Treadwell wouldn't have a means with which to complain about anything.



I think the young woman's inability to "play the game right" is the main force that drives the story. I think the title is extremely important here; society is constructed like a well-oiled machine, and the young woman is like a faulty gear because she seems to want more than just to survive. She can't thrive in a mechanical society that doesn't understand her need to experience love. All of the other characters are able to "bite the bullet" and shut off their passions and emotions, even the female ones; Mother is the one who really pressures Young Woman to marry for financial rather than romantic reasons. So I don't know if you can label this play as solely "feminist." What Treadwell may be "complaining" about is not so much a male-dominated society, but a society that always puts practical money-driven thinking ahead of more internal emotional needs. Certainly, it would be difficult for the main character as a woman to find a job that gives her the financial stability she needs to be as "free" as the man she fell in love with, so the prejudice against women of this time does come into play. But ultimately I think it's this culture of having a preconceived mechanized "game" for anyone to play, be it make the money or get married and have the kids, that Treadwell is criticizing.

Christopher Dufalla said:

I see your point, Carlos. If you know that the gun is loaded and that by pulling the trigger the gun aimed at your foot will launch a projectile into that foot. Why shoot yourself in the foot? Perhaps it won't hurt so bad. Now, why would a woman marry a man whom she knows she is not physically or morally attracted to in any way? The idea of necessity is there, but that doesn't mean that she has to like it. Not pitying the young woman when she whines about what she knew she was going to get herself into is understandable. However, we must keep in mind that to err is human.

Carlos Peredo said:

Matt, I like the take on the well oiled machine. It's true that Treadwell could be complaining about society as a machine rather than a woman's role in society, but I would disagree.

The young woman's lover is portrayed as someone who has broken from the machine and is living freely and happily in Mexico. In fact, if Treadwell's TRUE purpose had simply been to show that women want and need to be free, she could have just had the young woman run away to Mexico. Instead, she has her murder her husband and be killed for her crime because she wants to keep returning the the concept of the woman being jaded and wronged in society.

I don't know if the Young Woman's desire to be free would be as easily solved as just running away to Mexico with the lover. When she asks him if they're "going to stick together", he says that he has to "be moving on" (page 48). It doesn't seem like he's willing to really commit to their relationship. In this way I think Treadwell is portraying the Young Woman as closed in on all sides. She couldn't run away because she doesn't have any man to support her, and she's trapped in a loveless marriage. Men can escape the machine more easily than women. So certainly the machine seems to allow more freedom for the men than the women. I still think it's not so much that men are willingly oppressing women in this play, it's just that the system is set up in such a way that restricts the freedom of women. Treadwell is warning us about restricting societal expectations, because they can indeed have deadly consequences.

Carlos Peredo said:

I agree that he wouldn't commit to her, but he talks Mexico up as this grand place where everyone is free. I meant to imply that she could flee to Mexico without him. This is just my interpretation, but I got the feeling that Mexico was portrayed as a place where everyone lived as this man did (even though it almost certainly wasn't true.) I felt that the young woman idolized the land south of the border and that she believed she could have run off and be happy. I just think that the story doesn't play out that way because the ending wasn't drastic enough for Treadwell.

Andrew Adams said:

I totally agree with this point. It was the one thing that was always in the back of my mind. It did not seem that she was poor or on the verge of being homeless because she had to take care of her mother. It seemed to me that she just did not want to work anymore. The majority of people in America do not want to actually go to work, but we do it because we know we have to. If she was so disgusted by her potential husband, then I feel like there was no reason she should have married him. However, I still feel sympathy, and obviously if she never married him there would not be a plot.

Part of the whole premise of this play seems to be the idea that the woman does not have a lot of control over her actions because of the pressures society puts on her. In a realistic play, the Young Woman could just move on to another job and do what she wants to. But all the circumstances in this play are very heightened and exaggerated, so the pressure to get married to a rich husband is portrayed as even more powerful than it might normally. Also, Treadwell loosely based this play on a real case of a woman murdering her husband, so in keeping to that story she couldn't have written a happy ending where the woman gets a divorce and runs away to Mexico. And as a woman in the 1920's, I'm still not sure how successful she would've been in making it on her own. But more important than that is the pressure society puts on her to get married and please her husband, so much so that she kills him because she's afraid a divorce would hurt him too much.

April Minerd said:

I understood the driving motive of the play. But I also failed to sympathize with the WOMAN (Helen) because, in short, sometimes a person has to make best with the hand he or she is dealt. Helen is so self- absorbed she becomes obsessed with a notion of freedom. The only emotion in the play is her own self-pity: none for the mother or the child. And she did have a choice at the beginning. I think a life of work even though it may not have been ideal for a woman at that time, still would have been more fulfilling than one of self denial and regret.

Carlos Peredo said:

April, that's an excellent phrase. In fact, that's what I was trying to get at when I meant that she should bite the bullet. You are absolutely right, she does need to make the best of the hand she's been dealt.

Any good poker player will tell you that if you know how to play and know how to bet that the hand is irrelevant. You can take the pot with a high card of 5 if you play the cards right. Because of this, I have no sympathy for Helen.

And to Matt, I agree that the story wouldn't work if it had been written differently. And of course, it is based on this real life story. I didn't mean to imply that she should have done it differently or anything of this sort. I simply was trying to say that because of the reasons I stated, I felt no sympathy for Helen. If it had been written differently I might have felt for her more. As it stands, it wasn't and thus I don't.

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