Legacies That Cannot Be Escaped: The Connections Between Acts in Cloud 9
Cloud 9, by Caryl Churchill, is a farce in two contrasting acts that follows the life of a family. The first act takes place in a British colony in Africa, in Victorian times, and the second one takes place in London 1979, but for the members of the family the difference is just of twenty five years from one act to the other. The relation that the characters in the second act have to the characters in the first act imitates the human impossibility of not being influenced by what precede us.
What could be perceived as the characters ideals changes drastically from the first to the second act: Betty goes from living around Clive to leave him, and Edward goes from hiding his feminine attitudes to admitting them. Nevertheless, there are other changes that can be noticed by generations: Betty could not be with Ellen, but Victoria can be with Lin; Maud could not expect the company of men, but Betty is able to ask for it; Betty tried to go away with Harry, but Edward stops trying to keep a men who wants his freedom. The actions are not independent from the previous act, because all of them are linked either by being able what could not have been done or by being a reflection of previous actions.
In the first act when Betty suggests that Harry will “sometimes stay at home with [them]” (Churchill 9), Maud tells her that “[they] can’t expect it. The men have their duties and [they] have [theirs]” (Churchill 9). Even when Betty tried to go with Harry in the first act, she did not expect anything of him, neither to stay with her or to stand up by their relationship; she was the one that was going to sacrifice something by going away with him. However, the Betty of the second act is able to invite Gerry to her house at the end of act two. That previous incapacity to invite people over (“Betty: I don’t usually give strange man my address” [Churchill 8]) could be connected to the words of her mother, but Betty is able to get past that idea in the second act and not only expect a man to be at home with her, but invite him to. Betty is also able to get past a previous idea of herself when she leaves Clive in the second act, because in the first act, Betty’s first dialogue was: “I live for Clive” (Churchill 1).
Ellen tells Betty in the first scene that “[she] just want[s] to be alone with [her], and sing for [her] and kiss [her] because [she] loves [her]” (Churchill 38), and Betty tells her to “don’t be silly” (Churchill 39). The character of Victoria, functioning as if it were influenced by that dialogues, answers the same thing (“don’t be silly” [Churchill 66]) to Lin when she invites her to leave Martin and live with her. In that same page, the character of Lin even presents an idea as hers and then states that her “mother said it” [Churchill 66], which could add to the idea that everything that happens in the second act comes from “the past” even if it is a “past” not present in the play.
Edward also presents actions that could be perceivable as if it were the influence of her mother’s when as her, and as himself in act one, is attracted to a “free man”, but showing some kind of evolution, he does not try to go with this man but tells him that “[he] wouldn’t want to keep a man that wants his freedom” (Churchill 71). In that same scene he also presents an evolution of his character in act one, and he states it when he says: “Everyone always tried to stop me being feminine [… but] I like doing the cooking. I like being fucked” and accepts the feminine part that he tried to hide in the first act.
The characters’ actions are connected to other actions that occurred before, showing how somehow even what appears as new (the second act, the new characters, different actions) could be also perceived as what is old but with some modifications. By doing that, the characters and their actions imitate humans and its incapability to not behave under the influence of what preceded them. While showing this imitation, the play also becomes for the reader what will inevitably influence it, just for having had contact with the text, because as the text shows, being influenced is inevitable. The play, then, functions both as an imitation and influence (that was doubtlessly written under other influences), achieving to be what it represents.
Churchill, Caryl. Cloud 9. Hern, 1989.
Larkin, Philip. “This Be The Verse by Philip Larkin.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse.
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