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The Genesis of Modern U.S.-American Drama: Lillian Hellman, "The Children´s Hour" (1934)

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2012 17 Pages

American Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Role of Women in Society in the 20th Century and Historical Context

3. The Contribution of Women Writers in the Development of Modern American Drama. Lillian Hellman

4. The Children´s Hour

5. Sexuality in The Children’s Hour

6. Gender in The Children´s Hour. Good and Evil?
6.1. Young Mary Tilford
6.2. Mr. Amelia Tilford
6.3. Karen Wright and Martha Dobie

7. Conclusion

8. Literary Sources

1. Introduction

In terms of this essay I am going to explore the genesis of modern American Drama.

This topic is quite extensive in scope, and that’s why I want to focus my attention on women authors who wrote about women and about their place in the society of that time.

In the beginning of my essay I will explore the role of women in the society of the USA at the beginning of the previous century. I will examine what made women change.

In the next part of the essay I will examine the contribution of women writers in the literature of the USA at that period of time and specifically the contribution of Lillian Hellman on the basis of her play “The Children´s Hour”. I am interested in topics and issues that she takes under consideration in her play, and what actually Lillian Hellman wanted to achieve by writing and staging it.

In the last part of my essay I will examine the gender and sexuality represented in “The Children´ s Hour” by Lillian Hellman and, finally, I will present my thought about the contribution of women writers and especially the contribution of Lillian Hellman to the genesis of the modern American Drama,

2. The Role of Women in Society in the 20th Century and Historical Context

Lillian Hellman wrote The Children´s Hour in 1934. It was a time when the United States was experiencing the consequences of the Great Depression and the economy of Europe was also suffering. The nation was too busy fighting against poverty and unemployment. Because of the shortage of men in the First World War, many women were able to find jobs and feel less dependent on men. Women had to work in factories and hospitals to replace the men who had to fight but The Great Depression and unemployment has slowed this process.

The men were in an emotional crisis because they could no longer earn enough money. Some men had no work at all. Some men did not feel like a man in the fullest sense of the word. It was also the time when women struggled for their rights. Women still did not have the same rights as men at that time. Up to 1919-1920's, the main subject of the struggle was the right to vote. The early women's movement was just a struggle for the expansion of the natural rights which men had. In the 19th century a woman's task was to keep the house in order and to please her husband. The responsibilities of the men entailed earning money and controlling the family finances. The man was the master of the family and had the final say on controversial issues. The woman from birth was given fewer rights and no matter at what age she was. A wife, a widow, a sister or a daughter had always been on the sidelines after their husbands, brothers or sons. After having voted for the first time in 1922, women were able to fight for their rights to a greater extent. Women were emboldened to demand more personal freedoms. They began to wear more short skirts, their hair was cut shorter than in the past, smoking and drinking alcohol in public, despite the illegality of consuming alcohol in public. Women began to speak out against such misnomers like “men sexuality”. That time men affairs were taken as appropriate and healthy and women affairs like a kind of corruption and evil. (Kimberly M. Radek)

According to Associate Professor Judith E. Barlow[1] , the years from 1930 to 1960 were even less propitious for women. “The Great Depression of the 1930s and then the Second World War moved what were considered “women´s issues” to the back burner, while the Cold War period ushered in a reactionary attitude toward gender roles as well as politics. (Barlow vii) The Children´s Hour refers to Depression only by remarking the period of time that Karen and Martha needed to build the school and the cost of a telephone call or a taxi.

3. The Contribution of Women Writers in the Development of Modern American Drama. Lillian Hellman

Bloom argues[2] that the age of American theatre is born of a double movement one artistic and the other political, the former political, the latter conditioned by a general cultural shift. Bloom states[3] that in the first two decades of the century the influence of Strindberg and Ibsen, Yeats and Nietzsche made American theater international. Bloom adds[4] that American theatre became international because of isolation and through isolationism.” By the 1940s America was poised to dominate the drama of the English speaking world and the great age of American theater was about to commence.” (Bloom: 4)

[…] “born in this century[5] , the American Drama has acted both as a reflection and as a commentary of the dominance, power and sometimes corruption of the American democratic dream.” (Bloom vii) Eugene O´Neil, Tennessee Williams, Susan Glaspell, Imamu Amiri Baraka and Arthur Miller continue to deal with the issues pertinent to the “American Century” whether these are about gender, color, political oppression or political correctness.” (Bloom: vii)

As I have written above the role of women changed and this […] “brought, disintegration of traditional roles and the consequent stress in family relationships" (Friedman: 72). No wonder that in the literature began to appear works, which were devoted to the theme of women. Barlow argues[6] that in that period male producers and directors dominated and women writers had to face the demise of many little theatres. Certainly the literary works of women existed before. Jordan Miller argues[7] that […If one is to search American Drama for women playwrights of any stature before 1900, the list is sparse to the point of virtual nonexistence. Miller states[8] that until the new century American women dramatics haven’t contributed anything worthy of attention. Miller argues[9] that women writers bring their contribution in writing and backstage labors, combined with impact of the alternative little theatres for which they often wrote. “These factors were vitally important in moving the American drama into the artistic world of the 20th century “(Miller: 14). What else is new? According to Bigsby[10] women were literarily seen as the mere observers of history, not its engine. Bigsby argues[11] that their realm was a private one and that of men was a public one. Women were seen only in relation to men. For women writers and feminists of that period of time, there was a possibility to change things and to confront the existing hierarchy of values and concerns. “These concerns constitute feminist themes in that they portray the social and psychological restrictions placed upon women in a male dominant society, as well as the attitudes and values of women who confront these restrictions.” (Friedman: 72) Friedman also states[12] that in that period women's equality had been a powerful social issue and feminist concerns were often central to plays written by women.

“Feminism as theme should not be understood as simply a call for women's rights on the part of the playwright or her characters. Rather, it may be a statement about feminine consciousness, the feelings and perceptions associated with a female character's identity as a woman. As Sydney Kaplan asserts, the feminism of a writer may be reflected in "a consideration of the effect upon women's psyches of the external events around them." (Quoted at Sharon Friedman: 70)

[...]


[1] Barlow, E. Judith Plays by American Women 1930-1960. Applause. New York, London 1994 p.vii

[2] Bloom, Clive. American Drama Macmillian 1995 p.3

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] we are talking about 20th century

[6] Barlow, E. Judith Plays by American Women 1930-1960. Applause. New York, London 1994 p.vii

[7] Miller, Y. Jordan and Frazer, L. Winfred. American Drama between the Wars: A Critical History P. 14

[8] Miller, Y. Jordan and Frazer, L. Winfred. American Drama between the Wars: A Critical History p. 14

[9] Ibid

[10] Bigsby, C.W. E. Modern American Drama 1945-2000 Cambridge university press 2000 p.317

[11] Ibid

[12] Friedman, Sharon “Feminism as theme in Twentieth-Century American Women´s Drama” American Studies 25.1 (1984):69-89.

Details

Pages
17
Year
2012
ISBN (eBook)
9783656285212
ISBN (Book)
9783656285038
File size
479 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v201473
Institution / College
Humboldt-University of Berlin – Anglistik / Amerikanistik
Grade
2,7
Tags
Hellman Lillian The Children`s Hour women's issues feminism Women's rights

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Title: The Genesis of Modern U.S.-American Drama: Lillian Hellman, "The Children´s Hour" (1934)