Home Samples Comparative Essay: How and Why Do Two Texts From the Module Examine the Relationship Between the Individual and Society?

The concept of patriarchy, gender, sexuality and race are all interconnected, which can be explored by examining the relationship between the individual and society. The play Cloud, nine by Caryl Churchill explores the concept of identity and social constructions in society, while the poem Daddy by Sylvia Platt explores patriarchy and gender dimensions. Similarly, the poem the 17-year-old in a gay bar by Danez Smith talks about how individuals are not allowed to express themselves in society freely and can find solace in spaces where other people of the same orientation are present. The essay, therefore, aims to understand the relationship between individuals and society by analysing the three texts. Through this examination, the essay will show that the connection between the individual and society is based on the concept of race, gender, and sexuality, which are interconnected and based on dominance and power.

Gender Dimensions: Concepts of Patriarchy, Male Dominance

Caryl Churchills famous play Cloud Nine explore a number of relationships that centre around sexuality, personality and society. The play also talks about the relationship of the individual to the society in colonial regimes. The relationship between Joshua and the other members of the society in the play provides information on the sexual and racial oppression of culture during colonial times. The play most importantly provides an understanding of gender dimensions by exploring concepts of masculinity and femininity, where identities are based on social constructions of gender are provided by the society at large. According to scholars, the play also provides an understanding of gender diversity through a comic affect and different aesthetic affects. Judith Butler writes that gender is more performative rather than natural, and this is what we find in the play (cited in Ravari, 2010). Act 1 of the play portrays a very patriarchal and rigid colonial society in British Africa. The rigid gender and class rules are portrayed by people who are playing a different colour/gender than what they are. The relationship between Clive and his wife Betty where he introduces his wife as “My wife is all I dreamt a wife would be. And everything she is she owes to me” (Churchill, 1985, p.12). The lines are the representation of the concept of a patriarchal relationship that exists in society and in the house. Clearly, the play provides a picture of the patriarchal society that exists and where Clive is the head of the family and plays the dominating role. The domination posited by Clive rests on the theory of the conquered and the one that is powerful in relation to the former. Another form of patriarchy is when Clive punishes his wife because she has an affair with Harry, and his wife says, "It’s my wickedness… there is something so wicket in me Clive” (Churchill, 1985, p.94). The woman blames herself for the failure of her marriage.

Similarly, in the poem by Sylvia Platt, Daddy, patriarchy is explored in a father-daughter relationship. The father is portrayed as a Nazi who is both hated and loved by his daughter. Scholars have pointed out that the poet has used the Electra complex (Glitz, 2018). The poem has focused on the problematic relationship between the father and the daughter. The lines "The vampire who said he was you And drank my blood for a year" (Plath 1960) speaks about the relationship that she has with the men in her life. Scholars have pointed out that she is also referring to the relationship that she had with her husband where her husband had an affair, and that broke up their marriage. Apart from this, the poet also describes daddy as a brute who is the same as a Nazi soldier. The poem clearly shows how the woman had been dominated and felt suffocated due to the restrictions placed on women in society. She provides an example of the relationship she had with the men in her life, and they controlled each and every part of her life. She portrays herself to be a victim of the Nazi soldier, and hence she calls herself a Jew.

Identity Crisis: Interrelationship between sexuality and gender

All three texts explored the identity crisis of the characters in relation to their surroundings and families. In the play Cloud Nine, the focus is on the relationship between gender and sexuality with power and authority (Harding, 1998). Adam Berry opined that Queer theory focuses on understanding the meanings behind binary’s like homosexuality and heterosexuality and male and female. The theory tries to deconstruct the limitations based on the explorations of sexualities and compartmentalise them into what is valued and what is devalued as different categories (cited in Albayrak, 2009, p. 2). This theory celebrates the deconstruction of sexuality is imposed by society and enjoys the proliferation of different sexual identities, and defends all the number of ways that an individual can express themselves sexually without being marginalised. In the same way, in the play Cloud nine, the character Edward explores the concept of sexuality, queerness and identity. In Act 1, Edward wants to play with the doll and his mother Betty tells him that men don't play with dolls and goes on further to say that “You must never let the boys at school know you like dolls… No one will talk to you, you won’t be on the cricket team, you won't grow up to be a man like your papa" (Churchill, 1985, p.87). Where the concept of masculinity and femininity are imposed on different genders, which are separated into male and female. Each conforms to certain rules and regulations that are seen as normal in society. The individual who appears to be dressed or born with certain kinds of physical attributes is considered to be of a specific gender in the society and should conform to the rules and regulations, or they would be considered as a social pariah. In the same way, Edward here is struggling to find his own identity as he does not conform to the rules and regulations set by society. Harry, who is gay and quite openly portrays the sexual intentions towards men, is not received well by Clive, who tries to marry him off with women. The play uses the concept of “subversive parodic performances" in which the characters are constructed socially (Ravari, 2010). For example, Edward the son is played by a woman, and in Act 2, the role of Cathy is played by the person who played Clive, the patriarch in Act 1. Crossdressing is a process through which the play tries to illustrate the genders of the characters that are seen to be unnatural by society which allows the audience to question stereotypes. Drag is another example of performativity.

In the same way, the poem "The 17-Year-Old & the Gay Bar" explores the concept of identity to the individual who is underage but manages to get a fake identity and enter a gay bar. The poem explores the fact that this individual wanted a place “to belong” and which is “free of sin” (Smith, 2017). “i know not which country i am of…..or maybe i’m just tipsy & free for the first time, willing to worship anything i can taste.” These lines portray the crisis that the individual is going through to identify themselves with the regulations placed on their gender and sexuality by society. The gay bar is where this individual finds themselves to be free of the shackles placed on the right to express themselves.

The Construct of Race

There are a number of different identities which may include personal identity and, of course, cultural identity. An individual may share a cultural identity with others which is according to their own viewpoint and will differ according to the position that they hold in the society. The concept of the other is also considered to be a negative attitude towards another culture where discrimination exists. Interconnections between cultures are also linked with self-representation, and an individual can view themselves as the other through the representation that they face from another culture (Ravari & Naidu, 2011). In the same way, the concept of otherness has been explored in the play Cloud Nine by delving into the colonial constructs of race and class. The relationship between Joshua the servant and the family portrays the concept of otherness. A number of times, the word tribes comes up in the play where is used to describe a community of people that are very different from the colonial empire. In a conversation between Harry and Clive, they discuss the people in Africa, “Harry: They’re affectionate people. They can be very cruel of course. Clive: Well they are savages” (Churchill, 1985, p.42). The play also shows that there are two differences between the concept of otherness and race when it comes to Europe and colonial domination. In Europe, it was seen mostly as a fight between the working class, which threatened to destroy class order, while in the colonial atmosphere like Africa, the bourgeois values were threatened by race (Cote, 2009). The concept of whiteness and culture was inseparable when it came to race or class-based distinctions; this was linked with biological and, of course, civilisational issues where the colony needed to be civilised by the white community. Similarly, in Sylvia Plath's poem Daddy, the concept of the other is portrayed by the Nazi soldier and his Jewish slaves. The soldier is portrayed as somebody who is brutish and violent. The Jews are shown as the “other” from an inferior class and race. From the history of World War II, we understand that the Nazi government wanted to create a superior race of white men; it would dominate the world and subvert the other cultures. The Jew is somebody who is a victim of this constructive race and class.  The concept of sexuality is explored in another poem called “A 17-year-old in a gay bar” by Danez Smith; their race is explored through homosexuality. It is a story of a person who finds solace in a gay bar. The concept of otherness is shown when this 17year old individual finds people who come from the same background and background here means sexual orientation and, in many respects, race to find peace. The construction of race in the play and two poems are explored in a different way which includes an identity crisis.

The three texts explore gender dimensions which include subversion, dominance and patriarchy in society. The texts examine the identity crisis that people feel when they are not allowed to express themselves sexually, emotionally in public freely. The texts show that the concept of race, class is intertwined with identity and culture, which are expressed through its relationship with power and dominance.

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