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Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How do Maud's comments about womanhood in Act 1, Scene 3 of Cloud 9 reflect the ideals of the Victorian era?

It isn't just Clive who keeps Betty in her place in Cloud 9. Maud, Betty's mother, plays perhaps an even bigger role in molding Betty to be the ideal Victorian woman. The Victorian era is known for its separate spheres of masculinity and femininity, and women were held to a much higher moral standard than men. Though men satisfied their premarital sexual urges through the use of prostitutes or seduction of servants, women were expected to remain chaste until marriage. They were the keepers of the home, and as such their primary duties were having children and keeping their husbands happy. Maud's presence in the play serves to reinforce these idealized values of womanhood. As she says while "punishing" Victoria's doll, "My mama was an angel." Her constant reminders to Betty about the duties of women and the need for male protection, as well as her frequent praise for Betty's appearance, show the audience exactly how women were viewed in the Victorian era. It also shows how difficult it was to achieve those standards.

How do the lyrics to the song "A Boy's Best Friend" contradict the events at the end of Act 1, Scene 3 of Cloud 9?

"A Boy's Best Friend" is a real song published in 1883 that became popular during the Victorian era. It not only glorifies the relationship between mother and son, but characterizes mothers as being steadfastly on the side of their children and bearers of unconditional love. That message is contrary to the events immediately preceding the song: Joshua insults Betty and Betty pushes Edward to put Joshua in his place. He finally does, speaking to Joshua in a condescending and authoritative manner, mimicking his father. Betty is proud of Edward and tries to hug him, but Edward moves away; clearly Edward doesn't like this side of himself, and he doesn't want praise for it. The audience must suspect Betty shows him this kind of affection only when he conforms to society's standards of masculinity. This is in direct contrast to "A Boy's Best Friend," which says "But there is one whose smile/will ever on us beam." The song idealizes the love and support a mother feels for her child, but in Betty's case her admiration of Edward is conditional.

Why must Harry obey Clive's injunction to find a wife soon in Act 1, Scene 4 of Cloud 9?

Harry has previously shown no inclination to actually have a relationship with a woman outside of his flirtations with Betty, but in Act 1, Scene 4 he suddenly decides to get married. This is because his secret homosexuality is no longer a secret after he mistakenly takes Clive's misogyny for homosexuality. Above all else Clive follows the conventions of society, and homosexuality was a criminal offense during the Victorian era. Even though Clive and Harry are friends, Harry can't trust him not to report him to the authorities, or at least shun him from his life. Clive even outright says, "I cannot keep a secret like this." Clive thinks marriage will cure Harry of his "ailment" and demands Harry get married at once. Harry goes along with it not because he thinks he will suddenly become attracted to women, but because he has no other options. It doesn't matter whom he marries—he just needs to get married, and quickly, before Clive reveals his secret.

What does Betty's necklace symbolize in Act 1 of Cloud 9?

In Act 1 Betty's necklace is a symbol of femininity and devotion. The necklace is introduced when Edward steals it from Betty's jewelry box so he can give it to Harry. Effeminate Edward is trying to show Harry how much he cares about him. He doesn't care if Harry wears it; he just wants Harry to have a token of his love. The necklace isn't mentioned again until Act 1, Scene 5 just before Harry and Ellen's wedding. Betty wants to wear it so she can "look [her] best" for Harry. Because she doesn't realize he is gay, she is still under the assumption he is attracted to her. She wants to look good for him even though he's marrying someone else, a sign of her feminine devotion. She wants the necklace for Harry's sake but doesn't realize that no feminine ornament will make her attractive to him.

In what ways is Mrs. Saunders a foil to Betty in Act 1 of Cloud 9?

A literary foil is a character who serves as a contrast to another character, usually the story's protagonist. The foil's role is to highlight qualities of the main character. Cloud 9's main character, Betty, is the traditional Victorian woman whose sole focus is her family. Betty oversees the household and the care of her children, and she puts Clive's happiness before her own. She has very little knowledge of anything that goes on beyond the front door of their home. She depends on Clive for everything, including her feelings of self-worth. Mrs. Saunders, on the other hand, is completely independent. A widow, she lives on her own before fleeing to Clive's house. She knows of the dangers facing the British, and she carries a gun so she can protect herself. Unlike Betty, Mrs. Saunders enjoys sex, as evidenced by her admission to Harry at the end of Act 1, Scene 4: "there is only one thing about marriage that I like." Mrs. Saunders's lack of interest in following the cultural standards of the Victorian era and her utter distaste for the idea of marriage highlight just how imprisoned by her own life Betty feels. The contrast is emphasized in Churchill's casting a man to play Betty in Act 1.

How is Ellen's experience with homosexuality different from Harry's in Act 1 of Cloud 9?

Homosexuality is a struggle for both of the gay adult characters in Act 1 of Cloud 9. Ellen and Harry are uncertain about their futures: Ellen fears she will have to go back to England and get married, while Harry worries his secret will be discovered; they each look for someone or something to hold them steady. They go about this in different ways. Harry tries to achieve stability to pretend he's something he's not; he makes Betty think he has a romantic interest in her, which serves as a cover for his homosexuality. He's convinced an outward appearance of heterosexuality will be enough until he can go back to the river and away from the homophobia of the British Empire. Harry is deeply ashamed by his primal urges (or he at least tells Clive he is) and likens his sexual preference to a disease. Ellen takes a different approach to her sexuality. She isn't ashamed of how she feels, and it doesn't even cross her mind to hide her feelings for Betty. She attempts to achieve the stability and comfort she craves by drawing Betty closer in the hopes Betty will return her feelings. The difference here is Victorian culture had very different beliefs about male and female homosexuality. Acts of "gross indecency," which applied to sodomy, were outlawed in Great Britain from 1885 to 1967. But that didn't include lesbianism. Though lesbians existed, they weren't recognized as such. Many lesbian relationships were hidden under the guise of intimate female friendships. Ellen has a lot less to fear than Harry for being truthful about her sexuality.

How do Clive's feelings about Africans parallel his attitudes about women in Act 1 of Cloud 9?

Clive presents himself to be a paternal figure to both his family and the African tribes under his jurisdiction, but underneath his tender façade is an intense hatred of everyone who is different than he, most notably women and blacks. In Act 1, Scene 1 he characterizes the native as "savages," and in Act 1, Scene 3 he tells Betty they're dangerous before categorizing the "whole continent" as his enemy. It turns out he has the same feelings about women. In Act 1, Scene 4 he rattles off a litany of women's failings: treachery, lust, inconsistency, and irrational thinking. When he talks about women, particularly their sexuality, the associated imagery is always dark. "There is something dark about women, that threatens what is best in us," he tells Harry. In Act 1, Scene 3 he scolds Betty about "this dark female lust" that must be fought off before it can "swallow" everyone up. The "darkness" is a reference to his similar beliefs about Africans. In Clive's mind everything that threatens his position of authority is dark.

In what ways is Harry the opposite of the stereotypical Victorian male in Cloud 9?

Just as women had their duties at home, men had duties of their own. Many of these were in the public sphere: earning an income, engaging in politics, and serving as model citizens. At home men were the leaders of the household and engaged in manly activities like sports. From this perspective Clive fits the bill of the stereotypical upper-class Victorian male. Harry doesn't, however: while it's true his status as "fexplorer" attaches him to imperialism, his hobbies and viewpoints are in sharp contrast to the hyper-masculine Clive. For example Harry plays the piano, a pastime generally associated with women in the Victorian era. Clive calls the Africans "savages," while Harry refers to them as "affectionate people." The two men's differences are particularly evident in Act 1, Scene 2 when Harry tells Clive just how much spending Christmas with Clive's family means to him. He waxes rhapsodic about how the empire is family and he's just "one of its black sheep." It's a tender, moving speech, and Clive's only reaction is to tell Harry it's time to go find everyone. Sentiment is not appropriate for men like Clive, but Harry has a great deal of it.

What are the similarities between sexual oppression and Victorian colonialism as presented in Cloud 9?

Victorian colonialism was the expansion of Great Britain's territory from the 1870s through 1900. Trying to make up for income lost by the dissolution of the slave trade, the British ended up in Africa, where there was an abundance of the raw materials (such as palm oil, rubber, and cotton) needed to fuel the Industrial Revolution. As the British began doing business there, they also decided to claim land for themselves. Disregarding the land's native inhabitants, the British believed themselves superior to all other nationalities and cultures, particularly those that didn't practice Christianity. They were determined to make the Africans abandon their own way of life in order to conform to British standards, their own high self-regard serving as an excuse to make others submit. The same thing can be said for the oppression of women during the Victorian era. It was commonly believed men were superior to women in most areas, most notably in strength, intellect, and morals. Therefore, it was only appropriate that men did work outside of the home while women did the easier things, like running a household and taking care of children. Because they were thought to have more aptitude for academics, men went to grammar school and sometimes college, while women were educated at home. Men were strong enough for manual labor and smart enough to run businesses, so they earned the money on which women relied. Women were not allowed many opportunities to take care of themselves, so it was thought that they couldn't. Here, as with the question of race, the British male's own sense of superiority led to a system of oppression for an entire subset of the population.

How does Victoria's doll symbolize Edward's femininity in Act 1 of Cloud 9?

Playing with dolls is a traditionally female pastime, but it is Edward who is the most devoted to Victoria's rag doll. He cradles it, plays "clap hands" with it, and considers it to be his own. This feminine object represents Edward's own femininity in the way he nurtures and cares for it and the way the rest of the characters react when they see him with it: Betty is the most vocal about Edward's attachment to the doll, and she plainly tells him "dolls are for girls." She is fearful Clive will see him and be upset he's engaging in such feminine play. This is symbolic of Betty's own perception of Edward. She knows he's an effeminate little boy, but she also knows that's not socially acceptable. She makes Edward hide his affection for the doll so as not to upset Clive. This is the equivalent of asking Edward to hide his gentle nature so as to appear more "manly." When Clive does see Edward with the doll, he immediately accepts Edward's story that he's "minding" it for Victoria. This is emblematic of Clive's tendency to see only what he wants to see. He wants his son to be masculine, so he frames Edward's interest in the doll as Edward taking care of Victoria, which he considers very manly. The doll's demise at Joshua's hands is also symbolic. Joshua takes the doll from Edward and, using a knife, slits it open so the stuffing falls out. It can't be played with anymore. Churchill may be indicating the suppression or eradication of Edward's femininity would result in his own demise.

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