Drama as Literature (EL 250)

31 Aug 2005

Hill, "Heart in the Ground"

KAREN: I can't think—I'm restless when I'm here and all the time I'm doing chores—

LEE: Well, that's just fine. Huh? I'm exhausted from burying her twice already this week. And now I get to do it again because you were restless.


KAREN: My baby belongs here—I don't care what Bill—

LEE: Karen—Karen! They got laws, okay? Codes and things. I don't know what all, but my hands are tied. They're not gonna let us bury her on land this close to the river.

(Online: http://www.theatrehistory.com/plays/heartintheground.html)

Read the play, post your reaction in a comment on this page, reflect on your peer's comments, and respond in 100-200 words. (See below.)

Notes and Queries

Read: I suggest that you read the play for the first time before you read these notes. I am far more interested in helping you to develop the capacity to read and interpret plays on your own, and far less interested in getting you to memorize and spit back a list of things that I think are interesting about this particular play.

React: Post a comment on this web page that indicates what you'd like to talk about during the class discussion. (I call this your "agenda item.")

Respond: After you have read the reactions posted by your peers, identify interpretations that hadn't occurred to you, details you miss, or claims that you disagree with. (In the future, I'll ask you to engage with your peers directly.)

Reflect: Now open up a word processor, type your chosen passage at the top of the page, and write about 200 words that reflect on the significance of the passage that you chose. Make direct reference to a claim or observation made by a peer (but don't simply agree; explain how your peer differs from, or modifies, your own opinion).

Here's a sample reflection, to get you started. It represents just one of the many possible approaches.

Suggested reading: Forster, introduction and Chapter 1.

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It is interesting to note that Karen vests interest in heavenly (the moon), as well as terrestrial (the mud) matters. Individually, these function as working symbols to help drive the play to its climax. How do the symbols function together to achieve the work's denouement?

Also, isn't it interesting that the playwright choses corn to be planted in the ground and corn to replace the baby's corpse? Is there any significance as to why corn?

Posted by: Katie Aikins at August 9, 2005 11:13 PM

Karen focuses most of her thoughts on the moon and the corn-symbols each representing opposite ends of the nature spectrum. The corn seems to stand for life (the corn takes the place of Catherine's body, thus bringing the baby "back to life" and to her mother), while the moon represents God and heaven and power they hold over life on earth (the moon controls the clouds and the growth of the corn).

If God decides the fate of a human life, does the moon also control the fate of the corn? Is it significant that the corn (that takes the place of Catherine) is not ripe?

Posted by: Katie Lambert at August 15, 2005 04:02 AM

Not mentioned in the play: post-partum depression. Neither is SIDS = "Sudden Infant Death Syndrome." Perhaps the characters are uneducated, but you'd think they'd watch Oprah.

There's little evidence for when the play is set. No references to current events, popular music, or brand names. They do refer to tractor parts, and they use a stick of butter (which http://webexhibits.org/butter/ref/MiltonEParker.pdf says was first marketed in 1907), so the play probably couldn't take place before the early 20th century.

How would this play be different if the characters talked about things like Eminem's retirement and terror attacks in London?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at August 18, 2005 12:09 PM

Well, first I think that the play would be completely different because it focused on something that happened to them directly not indirectly. The characters talked about something that they would never forget, they will never get over the pain of Catherine's death. There will always be guilt and 'what if's?' Emimen's retirement is something that doesn't cause pain nor guilt. It is just a main event that has happened in society. But, London's terror attacks relates a little more closely to Catherine's death because of the relationships that the main charcters could have had with the people that died suddenly.

Posted by: Gina at August 18, 2005 07:09 PM

Honestly, if the play was set in the present, I don't see it being much different. I don't doubt that the London attacks would have affected their lives, but Karen is so focused on her own pain, I doubt she would have paid much attention to the happenings outside of her own heart & mind. Her husband, however, seems like he would be more preoccupied with everything around him, rather than what's going on in his own home.

Posted by: Katie Lambert at August 20, 2005 04:44 PM

Dr. Jerz,
I've tried to email you several times, but my server keeps returning my emails with fatal errors. Gotta love technology. I just wanted to know if we are to "react, reflect, & respond" to each reading. I'm trying to get ahead & just wanted to clarify. Thank you!!

Posted by: Katie Lambert at August 21, 2005 02:21 PM

Yes, each reading does ask for reaction, reflection, and response. I should note that the "reflection" will asks you to read what your peers have to say, and to reflect on it within the context of the class discussion. I completely understand your desire to get ahead, and I'm glad the course website can help you do that, but I'll also be eager to see you responding to what your peers have to say closer to the date when we discuss the text in class.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at August 21, 2005 08:50 PM

Karen's focus in the story is a matter of internal conflict of the self. I doubt that any events in society would surface as the topics of conversation as she is so absorbed in her own grief.

However, the story would be different if other topics arose because it would emphasize the importance of the major world events in comparison to our own personal trivial events. Not that Karen's suffering should be trivialized; however, it would put a new perspective on the situation.

Posted by: Katie Aikins at August 25, 2005 09:57 PM

At age 22 Karen is still recovering from what appears to have been a difficult childhood. While her family wasn't homeless (they had the means to leave her a farm), Karen senses that she is missing a foundation or "what's beneath [her]"- be it moral or intellectual. Having been strapped with a teenage pregnancy she grew up fast, and Catherine may have been a symbol to her of a second chance to get things right. Upon Catherine's death, Karen's already waning hope for stability is thrashed and she becomes emotionally unstable.

-As a side note:
I question too the life of the author Douglas Hill, because another of his plays "Roulette" finds his main characters experiencing similar marital problems. He seems to relish the exploration of this topic.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 29, 2005 01:55 PM

Karen seems to be starting to react violently to her situation. Since Lee doesn't think she needs to be put back in Marshall Valley, they should have a look at him. Any normal person in that situation would notice she needs professional help. She is obsessing about her late child way more than anyone should. Yes, it was a tradegy, but she refuses to cope with it rationally. She endangers herself and anyone around her.

Posted by: Josh G at August 29, 2005 01:59 PM

(To accompany my Agenda Item posted above)

"I can't feel anything with these shoes on. It's hard to know what to do sometimes when you can't feel what's beneath you. It's like having your shoes get in the way of your thinking."

Posted by: David Denninger at August 29, 2005 03:23 PM

Karen's emotional problems obviously reflect on her childhood. However, instead of her madness being caused by her seeing Catherine as a failed attempt at a second chance, perhaps her mental state was affected from a constant struggle with her brother Bill. The sibling rivalry could have mounted and reached it's peek when Bill would not let his sister bury Catherine near her house.
To add to the guilt growing in Karen's consiousness she obviously kept her illegitimate pregnancy a secret from her husband. Could that secret be a cause for her going over the edge as well?

Posted by: Andy LoNigro at August 29, 2005 03:48 PM

I think that her having to expose the secret of her illegitimate child certainly doesn't help the situation, emotional as it is. You make an interesting point about the sibling rivalry, and I see what you're talking about. Karen wants Bill to, "look [her] in the eye before he walks out of [her house]." Not to mention her blatent preparedness to shove a shotgun down his throat.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 29, 2005 04:10 PM

I wish we could have found out why Lee went to prison. He didn’t seem to be overly aggressive or exhibit any anti-social tendencies. I am curious why Karen, a clever young woman with great determination, who knows how to farm and is the legal owner of a farm, would be keen to marry a man who went to prison. Or did he go to prison for Karen the first time she committed grave robbery? That could be another reason why he wants her to stop so badly:

“LEE: …And I don't have the law in my hands—he does. Hell, I don't even have it on my side right now, thanks to you!”

Karen also seems to allude to past instances where Lee has been rather cowed and eager to please Bill:

“KAREN: …You think that what I'm doing is wrong because Bill says it is. You think that everything that comes out of his mouth is gospel law.”

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at August 29, 2005 05:20 PM

Josh G., the response I sent to your e-mail bounced. You should talk with the infotech people about that.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at August 29, 2005 05:49 PM

KAREN: Bill is not your family—I am. And Catherine is. And this farm. This is where we—We don't belong in there. We're out here. In the ground. We're out here eating away at all your time and attention. And you don't even
want to touch us. Lee this is your family.

I feel that Karens argument to bury her child had reason. Lee seemed to have no sensitivity to a mother's connection to her dead daughter. Though, as I read on i realized that Karen was a bit unstable. Lee did seem to come around after Karen let him know exactly what his family should mean to him.

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at August 29, 2005 05:54 PM

To note Mr. Jerz, I also took into consideration the idea that Karen might be going through post-partum depression and that she may very well not be "crazy".

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at August 29, 2005 06:03 PM

I definately do not think that Karen was obsessing over her baby's death more than anyone should. Everyone grieves differently, and one can not truly understand the pain that a person goes through when they lose a child, unless they lose a child themself. As a matter of fact, I can see alot of mothers (including my own) reacting in a similar way if they lost a baby. I could just be sympathizing with Karen because I am a female, and I have heard mother's tell over and over again how it feels to carry a baby for nine months, and then finally see that baby come into the world. I don't think that she neccessarily endangers anyone around her or herself. She seems like a smart woman. She's just a smart woman who is in an amazing amount of pain due to the circumstances and the loss of her second baby. Evidence that supports her intelligence, is the way that she is capable of arguing with Lee, and the sarcasm that she uses.

Posted by: Chera Pupi at August 29, 2005 06:04 PM

To note Mr. Jerz, I also took into consideration the idea that Karen might be going through post-partum depression and that she may very well not be "crazy". It also explains why she may have let out her secret of her other child at fourteen.

Posted by: Rachel Prichard at August 29, 2005 06:18 PM

I too see Karen's point to be obsessing over her babies death. However, I feel that she's not so much grieving as she is with a feeling of lonliness. I mean, of course the loss of her second child has a huge impact on her, but now she has to morn alone. Her husband has obviously not been in as much disarray as she has. Even though Karen made the point that Lee didn't wake up with the child lying next to him. The author seems to make the husband not so concerned about where the child is buried. I'm sure she feels like a single soldier fighting against an army with that and her brother opposing her.

Posted by: Andy LoNigro at August 29, 2005 07:37 PM

I really think that the fact that Karen lost her first child (although a different kind of loss) has ALOT to do with the fact that she's having a really hard time with the death of her second baby. As she mentions, this was her second chance, she's "supposed" to have children now. I'm sure that when she thinks everyday how it feels to not have her baby in her life anymore, the pain comes back from not having her first baby in her life. So in a sense, it's doubled. Which is clearly taking it's toll on Karen.

Posted by: Chera Pupi at August 29, 2005 09:47 PM

The reversal in Lee's attitude towards the situation is interesting. Throughout the majority of the play Lee is basically Karen's antagonist...he is against what she wants to do and is worried about the consequences of her actions and the effects on both Karen and himself. But then Karen tells him about the other baby she lost when she was young, and suddenly, he understands. Until this point he thought he had more to lose than her...he was worried about going back to jail, losing the farm, and probably losing Karen. But, then he realizes how much she has already lost. And he even says that he wants to understand, but until she tells him her secret, he doesn't. She does what she has to to get him to understand.

And she may seem extremely unstable, and maybe a little crazy, but I think that she is just fighting for what she believes in, and she's doing what she has to do in order to win that fight.

Posted by: Lorin Schumacher at August 29, 2005 10:35 PM

Do you think that Bill was really out to take the farm or was he just, as Lee pointed out, trying to do his job? Could his attempts to send Karen to Marshall Valley just be out of brotherly concern?

Does Bill even truly want the farm or is this just a conspiracy that was created by a hysterical mother? There is never much exploration of Bill being a terrible brother or just a generally greedy and vengeful person. Maybe Karen was just using it as an excuse to get Lee riled up enough to support her cause.

Since Bill is the sheriff he could probably just take the farm if he really wanted it. Who could stop him? They seem to be living in a very rural area.

Posted by: Kayla Sawyer at August 29, 2005 10:47 PM

Karen is a very intellectual woman who owns a farm and has a family. She is very upset with the fact that she has lost two babies. And the fact that her husband doesnt care, isnt helping with the mourning of her two dead children. Also why did Karen marry this man who is on parole and was in prison once before. I think that Lee was involve in a grave robbery or just took the punishment for his wife and that is why he has parole. Which is the reason why he needs to be all buddy buddy with her brother. Hence the reason he wants her to be out of the room when Bill comes over.

Posted by: Denamarie at August 30, 2005 11:36 AM

This play leaves so many unanswered questions:

Why is Lee on Parole?
Is Karen's first daughter dead?
How was Karen's first daughter concieved--
Could Bill have raped her?

Everyone has a different assumption, but it's hard to cast judgement without hard facts.

I think that Lorin is really on to something. The play's critical point is when Lee changes his mind, and decides to help Karen bury Catherine. All of his anxiety is put into perspective and his empathy turns him.

Posted by: David Denninger at August 30, 2005 12:05 PM

Karen obviously has experienced a difficult childhood due to giving birth in her early teens. Thinking she has a second chance after returning from Marshall Valley, she becomes mad after the death of her three week old girl.

Also, I thought the corn that was set in the wooden box in place of the deceased infant was interesting. Is the unripened corn a symbol for the new baby that didn’t have a chance to live?

I also found the following statement very

KAREN: "I can't feel anything with these shoes on. It's hard to know what to do sometimes when you can't feel what's beneath you."

I think in her statement above she admits her madness by saying she is unaware of her surroundings and becomes uneasy when people like her brother, Bill, threaten to take Catherine away from her.

Additionally, Karen has a great fascination with the mud and feeling the earth under her feet. She randomly removes her shoes at the dinner table in the middle of conversation with Lee. Then, distracted, asks her husband, “ What were we just talking about?”, even though all he asked previously was for her to pass the beans.

Posted by: Amanda at August 30, 2005 12:22 PM

More than anything, I found all the references to the moon and lunar cycle far more interesting. I've always been amazed at the impact the moon has on all our lives, yet we seem to forget what it does.

It is not like it's this gray orb floating high above to look pretty.

Karen's statement that the moon can pull the corn from the ground could be (I'm not saying it is) seen as an allusion to the menstrual cycle (which is in connection to lunar activity).

In it pulling the corn from the Earth it seemed to correllate with the whole birth and death ideal, the samsara of this crazy world.

Posted by: Kevin at August 30, 2005 01:35 PM

The one major flaw I found in the reading is that the two characters talk about a lot of things but then some topics are just dropped. It leaves the reader to wonder what happened.

I think that the reason why she is having such a hard time with the death of Catherine is because she lost her first child. The reason for her difficulty could be because of Marshall Valley. The other reason for it could be that she is not dealing well with the loss of her first child.

I also found it interesting that Karen kept stating over and over that Bill would not let her bury her child. That makes me wonder if there was any possible problems in her childhood with Bill.

Posted by: Danielle Meyer at August 30, 2005 02:27 PM

Why is Bill so much of a threat to both Lee and Karen? During the play it seems like he has it out for both of them. Is it for the farm? Is he power drunken due to the fact that he is the sheriff? Or is it because he simply don't like the both of them. Yes, it very possible that Bill could be just doing his job when he told the couple that the chil couldn't be buried at the farm. Or maybe he just doesn't want him to for personal reasons.

Posted by: Kevin Hinton at August 30, 2005 03:27 PM

To answer Prof. Jerz's question, I do think that this play would lose feeling if the talked mor about the entertainment world. This is the reason, the play to most people has this certain down home style to it (Avarage Joe if you will). Most "Average Joe's" don't care about the world of the "haves" because it does not relate to them in many ways. This play as it is not reflct this little guy persona and would get less credit if it didn't.

Posted by: Kevin Hinton at August 30, 2005 03:33 PM

I accidentally thought we were supposed to post out 200 word reflection paper.


Posted by: Amanda at August 30, 2005 05:41 PM

I think Denamarie has a good point. It does seem a little strange that Lee wants to keep Karen away from Bill so much. Maybe they do have something going on that Karen isn't supposed to know about.

Posted by: Amanda at August 30, 2005 05:45 PM

Kayla asks many specific questions about Bill's motives. I can tell you right now, you're going to do fine when it comes to being critical of news sources in journalism! Bill never appears on stage, so the only way we can judge him is through the two characters's reactions. Lee seems to believe Karen, though he has his own reasons for fearing Bill.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 2, 2005 03:05 PM

Props to Lorin and David, for identifying the core of the play. I saw some heads nodding in class when I identified Lee as the protagonist of the play, and the two of you have pointed to the best evidence in favor of that.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at September 2, 2005 03:07 PM

I prepare a term paper on this play, but I cannot find the life of Douglas Hill. Is there anyone who can help me?!

Posted by: Ali Alperen at January 1, 2007 02:24 PM

Of course there is!

Your school's friendly reference librarian is specially trained to help students in this kind of situation.

Good luck on your paper.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 1, 2007 06:54 PM
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