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Literature Study GuidesCloud 9Act 1 Scene 3 Summary

Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary



Betty, Maud, Mrs. Saunders, and Victoria are in the house waiting for the men to return from flogging the stable boys. The blinds are closed and the women sit in semi-darkness as they discuss what's going on outside. Maud wonders how they're supposed to make judgments about the situation when the men don't tell them anything. Mrs. Saunders says she knows some of what is going on with the natives, but Maud tells Betty not to listen: this is an issue for the men, and Clive will know what to do.

Edward comes inside as Mrs. Saunders exits. He plays with Victoria's doll despite Betty's warning that dolls are for girls. Boys who play with dolls don't grow up to be men like Clive. Edward says, "I don't want to be like Papa. I hate Papa," earning him a fierce reprimand from his mother, who insists he give the doll back to Victoria. Edward refuses and Betty slaps him before scolding Ellen, who has just come into the room. Ellen slaps Edward, and they both burst into tears before going upstairs.

Joshua enters, followed by Mrs. Saunders. She asks him if his arm aches after beating his "own people"; Joshua clarifies they are not "his people"—they are "bad people." Clive enters and the mood lightens as the shutters are opened. Edward returns and tattles on himself to Clive for playing with the doll and being disrespectful. Clive forgives him, saying Edward needs to spend less time with the women and more time with the men.

Everyone goes outside except Clive and Betty. Clive tells Betty it was his "duty" to have the stable boys flogged, noting "you can tame a wild animal only so far." He knows he should feel compassion for the natives but thinks they are "dangerous" and "implacable." Clive then turns the conversation to Betty's burgeoning relationship with Harry. Betty puts the blame entirely on herself, and Clive agrees she is "thoughtless." He says treachery and evil are the hallmark of her sex, but he can't believe she would be unfaithful. If she was, it would be his "duty" to leave her. He ultimately tells her she is forgiven, but she shouldn't expect him to feel the same way about her anymore. They go outside.

Joshua, who is getting drinks, spots Edward sneaking back into the room to get the doll and calls Edward a sissy. Betty enters and asks Joshua to get some thread from her sewing box, but Joshua is rude to her. Edward avoids his mother's hug, and the cast sings "A Boy's Best Friend." Betty prompts Edward to put Joshua into his place. Edward finally does, ending his command with, "You move when I speak to you, boy."


Act 1, Scene 3 reveals society's double standards about what is appropriate for men versus what is appropriate for women. When the scene begins, the men, including Edward, all watch outside as Joshua whips the stable boys while the women are literally kept in the dark inside. With the exception of Mrs. Saunders, the women rely on the men to tell them what is happening. According to Maud, that's how things should be. She, like Clive, takes the Victorian view of marriage wherein spouses' duties are separated into different spheres. The woman's domain is the home, while the man handles everything beyond the front door. The concerns of men shouldn't have any impact on women because women have their "own part to play." As Betty's mother, Maud is at the root of Betty's feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. She is constantly reminding Betty how to think, act, and speak, and when she praises Betty, it is only for Betty's appearance. One can imagine this has gone on Betty's whole life, as Maud repeatedly tells Victoria how pretty she is. Maud believes a woman's external appearance is more important than intelligence or independence, both of which fit squarely into the realm of men.

Extramarital affairs also fall in the realm of men, at least according to Clive. Though he sees nothing wrong with lusting after and having sex with Mrs. Saunders, he punishes Betty for having feelings for Harry. His actions with Mrs. Saunders and reactions to Betty's flirtations indicate he subscribes to the men are polygamous, women are monogamous school of thought popular in the 19th century. On the whole a woman's extramarital affair was considered less forgivable than a man's, as evidenced by the divorce laws of the time period. In general a man whose wife cheated on him could file for a legal divorce and remarry, but a woman trying to divorce a man for cheating on her would have to settle for legal separation, not a divorce. Neither party could remarry in that situation. Clive's threat to leave Betty if she is unfaithful to him thus presents a very real problem for Betty, particularly if Harry doesn't want to marry her. As Maud fears, Betty will be all alone and "unprotected." Clive, on the other hand, doesn't worry about his extramarital affair causing problems in his marriage; he knows Betty wouldn't leave him if she was not allowed to marry someone else. This disparity in the treatment of extramarital affairs is another gender-based double standard of the Victorian era.

Cloud 9 shows how gender roles and power structures are ingrained in children at a young age. Baby Victoria is always told how pretty she is and how her father will take care of her. Edward is constantly reminded he must hide his feelings and his nurturing side because they do not fit within Clive's narrow definition of what it means to be a man. Edward is learning to hide his more unacceptable instincts, such as playing with Victoria's doll. He even apologizes for saying he doesn't want to be like his father before anyone asks him to. But just because Edward knows what is expected of him doesn't mean he accepts it. When Betty pushes him to stand up to Joshua at the end of the scene, he does so in his father's voice, belittling Joshua and establishing himself as the superior in their relationship. Yet when Betty praises him for it, he tells her not to touch him. He does not want his parents to love him for something he is not.

Edward is undoubtedly echoing Clive's words as he yells at Joshua. As a representative of the British crown, Clive doesn't hide his disdain and condescension toward the native Africans, whom he views as wild animals in need of taming. To Clive a tame African is one who respects and serves white people, just like Joshua. His views about race aren't very different from his views about gender—in all things the white male reigns supreme. Though he wants the natives and his family to view his leadership as firm and absolute, he isn't the person punishing the stable boys for plotting behind his back. He makes Joshua do it, thereby absolving himself of responsibility for any repercussions. Clive wants to be in charge, but he doesn't want to face the consequences.

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