RUR (Čapek)

HELENA: Mr. Alquist, are you a believer?

ALQUIST: I don’t know. I’m not quite sure.

HELENA: And yet you pray?

ALQUIST: That’s better than worrying about it.

HELENA: And that’s enough for you?

ALQUIST: It has to be.

I was reading through this play fairly quickly, but when I hit this line, my eyes  got snagged on it, and I had to scroll up and reread the whole section again. The conversation between Helena and Alquist switches topics from Robots to religion, from man-made scientific experiments grounded in atheism to Christian faith. Even if Alquist is agnostic, he prays anyway, if only to distill his worries for the human race.

That admission is jarring, at least to me. How many “religious” people are out there, myself included, that pray for the sake of quieting doubts, lulling themselves into a false sense of security, deluding themselves that they are doing it out of faith? This quote caught my attention because it made me feel guilty.

But then, Helena asks if false hopes through prayer are enough, and Alquist responds, “It has to be.” This short statement confirms that Alquist does have faith in him, that he places his trust in a prayer he knows has no physical backing. Even if he claims his reasoning for praying is because he’s “old fashioned” and that it’s “better than worrying,” he puts his complete trust in a God he doesn’t fully know, because he knows he can’t depend on humanity.

Alquist knows the only thing the human race has left is hope, but he can also see the hope is unrealistic, and that the only action he can take is to pray, as futile as that may be.

Source: RUR (Čapek)

The Proposal (Chekhov)

“CHUBUKOV: Who’s dead? [Looks at LOMOV] So he is! My word! Water! A doctor! [Lifts a tumbler to LOMOV’S mouth] Drink this! … No, he doesn’t drink. … It means he’s dead, and all that. … I’m the most unhappy of men! Why don’t I put a bullet into my brain? Why haven’t I cut my throat yet? What am I waiting for? Give me a knife! Give me a pistol! [LOMOV moves] He seems to be coming round. … Drink some water! That’s right. …”

Throughout the play, Chubukov’s spirits change on a whim. At any moment, he goes from calling Lomov terms of endearment (probably translated too literally) to threatening to kill him, to threatening to kill himself. This erratic behavior makes Chubukov seem like a modern day “drama queen.”

How can a man go from shouting threats at someone to contemplating suicide over guilt? Because of his frequent and dramatic changes in mood, I doubt the sincerity of Chubukov’s statements. This is the second time he asks himself why he hasn’t committed suicide yet, as if doing so were the most important matter at hand. And yet, there are no indications in the script itself (regardless of how actors would choose to portray him) that suggest he would ever actually kill himself. It is difficult to take the man seriously.

It’s as if Chubukov’s natural instinct, as a wealthy, pre-soviet Russian, to over-exaggerate his every feeling in order to assert that he has the strongest convictions. And yet, by doing this, the inverse happens: to the viewers/readers of the play, he seems pompous and insincere. It’s like watching a young couple try to outdo each other’s shows of affection by progressively spreading their arms wider apart. (“I love you this much.” “Oh yeah? Well, I love you THIS much!”) By then, no one in the audience takes him seriously. By trying to amplify his point, Chubukov destroys his own credibility. But because the other characters in the play are equally self-centered and satirically over-the-top, they don’t notice. Only we do.

It’s a good possibility that Natalya learned to be overdramatic and argumentative from watching her drama-queen of a father.

Source: The Proposal (Chekhov)

Wilde as Parodist

“By ex- posing and burlesquing the vacuities of a moribund literature Wilde satirizes, too, the society that sustains and produces it; he has given us an oblique perspective on a society’s shallowness through direct ridi- cule of the shallow art in which it sees its reflection.”

It is interesting that Wilde, an author and poet, would satirize the supporters of literature. Does he view himself as above the “vacuous” writers and written works, or is he including his own work as bait in his parody? Does he view himself as a member of a “dying art,” like this essay quote implies? Or maybe, Wilde is simply stating a fact about humanity just for the sake of putting it out there. He just wants to spoof the fact that people portray their “shallowness” in the artistic endeavors they value.

Source: Wilde as Parodist

Trifles (Susan Glaspell)

In Trifles by Susan Glaspell, I noticed this quote: “If I was you, I wouldn’t tell her her fruit was gone. Tell her it ain’t. Tell her it’s all right. Take this in to prove it to her.” Mrs. Hale says this to Mrs. Peters and hands her the jar of cherries to take to Mrs. Wright in jail. This quote shows Mrs. Hale sympathizes with Mrs. Wright, and knows how hopeless her life was married to Mr. Wright. She does not blame the woman for killing her husband out of spite for him killing her canary. These women are more concerned over the feelings of Mrs. Wright as an individual than they are about crime and punishment, hence the name, “Trifles.” The small trifles they notice lead them to solving the case, unlike the “serious” men who only care about the big picture. The two women are willing to lie about a “trifle” like her fruit preserves to Mrs. Wright to try and brighten her spirits, because small “trifles” like that are what keep a person going when everything else is bleak. That is what I think of this quote. Would you have told the truth to Mrs. Wright that her jars had broken?

Source: Trifles (Susan Glaspell)