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Cloud 9 | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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How does the opening song in Act 1, Scene 1 of Cloud 9 reflect Clive's feelings toward each member of his family?

Clive establishes himself as the head of his household in the opening number, and the manner and order in which he introduces his family tells the audience exactly how he feels about them. Betty is the most important person to Clive, as she is introduced first, but he doesn't think much of her as an actual person. He tells the audience "everything she is she owes to me," insinuating her life is worth nothing without him. Joshua is introduced next, which is surprising considering he's a black servant. Clive's mention of how "you'd hardly notice that the fellow's black" indicates his belief Joshua would be a better person were he white, as well as his disdain for black people in general. Edward is introduced after Joshua, which shows Clive's low esteem for his own son. Victoria, Ellen, and Maud are not allowed the chance to introduce themselves, because Clive thinks there's "no need for any speeches by the rest." In his eyes they are not important enough to tell their stories.

What is significant about Betty's response when Clive asks her if she is reading a good book in Act 1, Scene 1 of Cloud 9?

Clive's question seems innocuous enough, but Betty doesn't answer with the traditional yes or no. Her response, instead, is, "It's poetry." What she means by that is up to the interpretation of the actor. He—keeping in mind that in Act 1 Betty is played by a man—can use his voice to insinuate that Betty liked it, or was bored by it, or hated it. From a purely textual standpoint, it is important to note Betty has no actual opinion. Reading, in particular reading poetry, was considered to be more of a female than male pastime. Betty reads poetry because it is expected of her, not because it is something she wants to do. In the grand scheme of things, her opinion about what she reads doesn't really matter because she'll be expected to do the same tomorrow.

What is the meaning of Clive's wink at Joshua in Act 1, Scene 1 of Cloud 9?

Clive winks at Joshua after reprimanding him for being disrespectful to Betty when she asks him to fetch her book. Clive asks Joshua for his version of the events and believes him when he says it was just a joke, but he also knows he needs to placate Betty. That's why his directive to apologize to Betty is paired with a wink. He wants Betty to think he's listening to her and putting her first, but he also wants Joshua to know his admonition meant nothing. The wink signals that Clive has more faith in the words of his servant than in those of any woman, even his own wife's.

How does Mrs. Saunders's claim that she has a gun in Act 1, Scene 1 of Cloud 9 differentiate her from the rest of the women at Clive's house?

Guns symbolize masculinity and power in Cloud 9, and in Act 1 mostly men carry weapons as part of their task of protecting the household. Mrs. Saunders comes to Clive's house because she knows it will be well-protected, but she doesn't come empty-handed—she has a gun of her own. Unlike the other women in the house, Mrs. Saunders understands she cannot rely on anyone except herself. She refuses to remain ignorant about the tribal uprising and inserts herself into conversations that would normally be deemed inappropriate for a woman. Her firearm, like Clive's, Joshua's, and Harry's, is a display of her more masculine qualities and capabilities as well as the power that comes with stepping outside of gender roles.

How is Clive's tryst with Mrs. Saunders in Act 1, Scene 2 of Cloud 9 emblematic of his attitudes about women?

Like many men of the Victorian age, Clive takes a very narrow view of sex. He agrees with the commonly held belief of the era: only men experience sexual gratification. Women have sex in order to bear children and please their partners. That of course isn't true, as evidenced by Mrs. Saunders's obvious pleasure during Act 1, Scene 2 but Clive is oblivious to anyone but himself. In his mind a woman's role in sexual activity goes no further than to bring him pleasure. This parallels his view of women in everyday life. He cares nothing about Betty's hopes and dreams, and her happiness is secondary to his own. He thinks her primary responsibility is to make him happy, and like his liaison with Mrs. Saunders, he doesn't return the favor.

How does the game of hide and seek in Act 1, Scene 2 of Cloud 9 capture Betty's feelings about marriage and motherhood?

Betty isn't fulfilled by her life as a wife and mother: she says as much to Harry in Act 1, Scene 1 as she talks about her thirst for adventure. She makes her feelings more clear in Act 2, Scene 1 during the game of hide and seek. She attempts to keep Harry's attention for more than a few minutes at a time and grows more frustrated with each interruption. When she asks why they can't ever be alone, he responds, "You are a mother. And a daughter. And a wife." Betty replies, "I think I shall go and hide again." This is meant to be a comical moment, but it comes alongside her real feelings of despair. The thought of being responsible for the happiness of her husband, her mother, and her children is overwhelming, and all of those duties together leave her no time to pursue her own desires—in this case, Harry. In that moment she would do anything to be alone, even play hide and seek.

How does age factor into the relationship between Harry and Edward in Act 1, Scene 2 of Cloud 9?

In Act 1 Edward is nine years old, and in Act 1, Scene 2 it is revealed he and Harry (an adult) have had a sexual relationship in the past. This, of course, is considered a pedophiliac relationship, or a sexual relationship between an adult and a minor. Pedophilia is wholly unacceptable and illegal in Western culture, and Churchill uses it as a means of helping the audience understand the high stakes of Edward and Harry's relationship. In the context of the play it isn't the characters' ages that are a problem, but rather their sexual orientation. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in Victorian England, and Harry would have faced imprisonment for any of his sexual encounters. Churchill frames Edward and Harry's relationship through the lens of pedophilia to give the audience a visceral understanding of the revulsion that would have been felt in the Victorian era if one discovered a friend or family member was attracted to someone of the same sex.

How does the game of catch in Act 1, Scene 2 of Cloud 9 create dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience is aware of something the characters don't know. In this case the dramatic irony is at the expense of Edward, who thinks a woman by definition cannot throw or catch, even though two women are doing so right in front of him. Betty and Ellen have no problem throwing the ball back and forth to one another, but Edward tells his mother she shouldn't play because she "can't catch a ball." Then he tells Ellen she's "no good" at it either. By the same token Edward thinks men are innately more capable of athletic activity. The women sit down and the men take over. Edward has a terrible time throwing and catching the ball, and his father calls him "Butterfingers." The audience can see the truth, but Edward can't.

Why isn't Betty alarmed by Ellen's confession of love in Act 1, Scene 2 of Cloud 9?

Homosexuality was a crime in Victorian England, and as evidenced by Clive's reaction to Harry's homosexuality in Act 1, Scene 4 it wasn't taken lightly. Yet Betty doesn't react at all when Ellen says she loves her in Act 1, Scene 2 because female homosexuality, or lesbianism, wasn't even acknowledged as existing during the Victorian era. Betty, who has always lived her life according to cultural standards for her class and sex, probably doesn't even realize Ellen is talking about romantic love, rather than the love that accompanies a close female friendship. Betty cannot yet fathom the idea of women who are not interested in a life partnership with a man. That's why she thinks Ellen's kiss is just a cruel joke—she has no frame of reference for the feelings behind it.

What is suggested by the lighting directions for Act 1, Scene 3 of Cloud 9?

The lighting directions in Act 1, Scene 3 are symbolic of the female characters' lack of knowledge about the political situation surrounding them. The stage directions at the beginning of the act say the "blinds are down so the light isn't bright though it is day outside." The stage should then be somewhat dark with only enough light so the audience can see the actors. Betty, Mrs. Saunders, Maud, and Victoria are inside while the men are outside dealing with the treacherous stable boys. The women don't know what's going on; they are figuratively in the dark while sitting literally in the dark. When Clive arrives, he demands the shutters be opened. This directive indicates it is Clive who controls the amount of light, or information, the women are allowed to have.

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