No Sympathy Here

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Machinal by Sophie Treadwell
"Submit! Submit! Is nothing mine? The hair on my head! The very hair on my head-" page 79
 The entire time through this play I felt that the women were not allowed to make their own decisions. The main character felt tied to the hands of her mother to marry someone she did not love and he too seemed to control her to some degree. 
 Suffocation on her part was what she always explained though I don't believe that I can completely feel sympathy for her. She could have told her mother that she didn't care and that she would never marry Mr. Jones no matter what. Instead she said she had to marry even if it was not for love. That I may not understand, but let's face it, it was a different time back then. 
  I must say that she had to have gone insane to have killed her husband. I understand that she felt trapped. Who wouldn't in a situation that feels miserable? Although she could have fled with her mother somewhere. Speaking of the mother, one question I could not find answered was why the main character had to support her in the first place. Why? Was the mother ill equipped to work for herself? 
 This play was confusing and honestly boring in my eyes. The main character seemed a bit crazy anyway and probably deserved to have the death sentence, even though that is not the worst punishment in the world, but that is not a topic meant to be put inside this blog. 


I'll grant you that the play can be confusing. When you read a script, though, you have to imagine the character's actions, where they're looking, how the other characters are responding to them... the scene where the husband is trying to get the Young Woman to come out of the bathroom is painful for me to read because the stupid cheerful buffoon is so happy with his fancy watch that when she says "just a minute" he starts counting out the seconds. Now, as a guy who loves gadgets, I can see why he might be bored waiting for her, and looking for something to do he might want to use his watch, but those lines just take a few seconds to read... a minute is a long time, so when he spends a whole minute counting off the seconds, either not realizing how cruel he's being, or not caring that he's being cruel, that scene will have a big impact on the audience. Consider also how the non-verbal sounds (off-stage jackhammers, the woman's gagging sounds) set an emotional tone in the hospital scene. Shakespeare rather infamously wrote a stage direction, "Exit, pursued by bear," which gives the actors (and costumers) quite a bit of work to do so that the audience can see the end result. When we read scripts, we have to do that work ourselves.

Alicia Campbell said:

I am glad you brought up the question as to why Helen has to support her mother. I did not even consider to wonder why. I can see how you may have initially felt no sympathy. Two things also come to mind. I do not know why Helen could not have gotten married, and continued supporting her mother herself; it seemed as though she had been doing it all the while anyhow. Also, if for some reason I had to support my mother but could not, I cannot say that I would not marry a man I did not love who could do so. Ultimately, I guess Helen was pressured by society to marry at all, and by her mother to marry a man who could support them both.

Georgia Speer said:

Sympathy, yes, it is only natural.
I feel that Helen definitely has the pressures and expectations of what a woman’s role was for this time era, and that it was not really a choice as we can easily see it today. She felt the weight of not only the obligation to marry for financial security for herself but also her mother. Could Helen have just continued supporting her mother, well yes if she was doing it now it seemed almost that she could, but is what relevance does this have on her decision to marry? Just one more stress factor that could push her further in that direction of getting married for security, not love?
I disagree with Nikita’s blog above in that there is no sympathy for her, and that it is only natural for me to feel sympathy for Helen due to from Foster’s chapter 12, page 106, that “reading literature is a highly intellectual activity, but it also involves affect and instinct to a large degree. Much of what we think about literature, we feel first.” I can sympathize for during this era it must have been a very difficult decision for women to make and than have to live each day, a loveless marriage that they felt trapped in and just went through the mechanical motions that were expected. They felt that their freedom and any power was striped away.
As to her going insane, I feel that this is very possible for that going through this day in and out almost could just make her also numb in having what seemed no emotions with her husband. Treadwell may have painted a picture of Helen’s lifeless marriage but I feel that even though these actions symbolize many things, her sense of dedication to her husband was that still in her mind she rationalized that death was a better option rather than the shame of her leaving or divorcing him, not because of what type of man he was but just of the expectations and reactions of society during this time.
I found the play difficult to read, not so much boring, but in the end my sympathies will lean in favor for Helen, for I know personally I would not want to be in Helen’s shoes. So I believe Treadwell’s intent to make the readers feel sympathy for women in this era worked, at least for me.

Nikita McClellan said:

In response to Georgia:
I do understand having sympathy for Helen. It is a tough time for women in that era you are definately correct in that. But my point is that she could have chose not to go the way she did. She was not actually forced to marry. She was more or less pressure and if she would have used will power, then she could have over come that pressure.
But don't take me the wrong way. I do feel for Helen in the sense that her life was not easy and that she felt trapped. I should have clarified that.

Georgia Speer said:

Nikita, thanks for the response on my response to your blog. I feel that you are correct in that we need to step back from the emotional view point of feeling sympathy for this woman and look closer at the text and writing. I didn’t think it insensitive to not feel sympathy for I know that I am an emotional reader, that is for sure. In trying to learn how to step back from that and look at literature for the actions and symbols going on during the era in which these writers are publishing these works it does strike me as that Treadwell definitely wants us to feel that this woman was trapped and to have sympathies for her. Even though she had a choice and could have had stronger will power not to give into what others wanted of her, but I feel that she truly didn’t feel that she had a choice. And once that decision was made she couldn’t go back so thinking of murdering her husband seemed almost to her more of a “sensitive” solution to her problem for her and her husband in his sense. People today may have more will power to put forth standing up for something they believe in or don’t believe in, but still we see the reflection of many that give into social pressures and may do things that they really wouldn’t do normally. Thanks.

Nikita McClellan said:

In response to Dr. Jerz:

I should have made it more clear that it was not the fact that I could not imagine the scenes in the play that made it confusing. It was more so the fact that the play had what reminds me of the Meisner Technique. I am not fond of all the repetition.
I also disagree that the Husband looked like a jerk in the honeymoon episode. I took it to be a joking kind of play that he was doing by counting the seconds and that he did not know that it may offend her.

Thanks for the clarification, Nikita, and for continuing this productive thread.

When I first read the play I thought he was just being playful, but now that I've been married for about 15 years I know that his actions will be interpreted as insensitive even if he doesn't mean it. In his defense, he hasn't been married for 15 years, so he doesn't know what I know.

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Dennis G. Jerz on No Sympathy Here: Thanks for the clarification,
Nikita McClellan on No Sympathy Here: In response to Dr. Jerz: I sh
Georgia Speer on No Sympathy Here: Nikita, thanks for the respons
Nikita McClellan on No Sympathy Here: In response to Georgia: I do u
Georgia Speer on No Sympathy Here: Sympathy, yes, it is only natu
Alicia Campbell on No Sympathy Here: I am glad you brought up the q
Dennis G. Jerz on No Sympathy Here: I'll grant you that the play c